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Whether the Trial Court’s Failure to Appoint Substitute Counsel Deprived Defendant of the Effective Assistance of Counsel

Case Name: People v. Carter (2024) __ Cal.5th __
Case #: S278262/C094949
Last Updated: May 20, 2023

Did the trial court deprive defendant of effective assistance of counsel by failing to appoint substitute counsel to evaluate and potentially argue defendant’s pro. per. motion to dismiss after appointed counsel refused to consider the motion based on an asserted conflict in arguing her own ineffective assistance of counsel?


In 2007, defendant Ishmael Michael Carter was committed to Coalinga State Hospital pending trial on a petition to commit him as a sexually violent predator (SVP) under Welfare and Institutions Code section 6600 et seq., the Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVP Act). After awaiting trial for over 12 years, Carter sought to enforce his due process right to a timely trial by filing a motion to dismiss the petition. In addition, Carter filed a motion under People v. Marsden (1970) 2 Cal.3d 118 (Marsden) to replace the Yolo County Public Defender’s Office and his deputy public defender as his counsel because he believed the office would be disqualified from litigating the motion to dismiss on his behalf.

Following a hearing, the trial court denied Carter’s Marsden motion, declined to rule on the motion to dismiss, and conducted a trial resulting in Carter’s indeterminate commitment as an SVP. The Court of Appeal affirmed. Carter contends the trial court’s Marsden inquiry was insufficient and requires full reversal of the judgment or, in the alternative, conditional reversal pending reconsideration of his Marsden motion and potential litigation of his motion to dismiss. The Attorney General asserts that the trial court properly denied the Marsden motion with respect to Carter’s public defender at the time but concedes that the trial court should have investigated whether a potential conflict of interest would have prevented her from litigating the motion to dismiss. The Attorney General contends that remand should be limited to investigating that potential conflict.

We hold that the trial court conducted an insufficient Marsden inquiry and erred in instructing Carter to file his motion to dismiss pro se. But we agree with the Attorney General that “[f]ull reversal at this stage would be premature.” We conditionally reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeal and remand with directions to conditionally vacate the SVP judgment and remand to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

This case was decided on 5/20/2024. Justice Liu authored the opinion of the court (unanimous decision).


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