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Name: US v. Rivera-Corona
Case #: 08-30286
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 08/18/2010

In reviewing a defendant’s motion to discharge privately-retained counsel and to proceed with court-appointed counsel, the appellate court should determine if (1) the court conducted an “appropriate inquiry” into the defendant’s financial eligibility; (2) if so, was the court correct in its ultimate conclusion of financial eligibility; and (3) if the defendant was eligible, did the court properly weigh the interests of justice? Appellant was represented at his change of plea by retained counsel. At that time the court did not advise appellant of his right to be represented by counsel at every stage of the proceeding, and including the right to court-appointed counsel if necessary. Retained counsel later moved to withdraw from the case and to withdraw the plea, informing the court appellant thought counsel had been ineffective and had “scared” appellant into pleading guilty. Appellant explained that counsel told him he needed an additional $5000 to go to trial, and that otherwise counsel would “prosecute” (presumably sue) his family. In denying the motions, the court told appellant that while he had the right to hire a new attorney, absent a complete breakdown of the attorney-client relationship, there were no grounds to appoint counsel just for a sentencing hearing. Appellant responded he did not have the money to hire a new lawyer. The Ninth Circuit held the court erred in denying the request without determining if appellant was financially eligible for court-appointed counsel. The trial court should have made a conclusion about financial eligibility, and then considered the interests of justice. Even if the there were no grounds to withdraw the plea, the right to counsel also applies at sentencing. (As noted by the concurring opinion, in People v. Ortiz (1990) 51 Cal.3d 975, the California Supreme Court held an indigent defendant need not show inadequate representation or an irreconcilable conflict in order to substitute appointed counsel for retained counsel.)