United States v. Williamson, No. 15-3147 (10th Cir. 2017)Annotate this Case
Brett Williamson was charged with and convicted of various child pornography offenses. Prior to trial, it came to light that his defense counsel and the prosecutor trying the case had a history together: they were divorced and shared custody of their child. For that and numerous other reasons, Williamson asked for new counsel, but the district court denied his request. Williamson proceeded without an attorney and was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. On appeal of his conviction, Williamson argued the district court should have inquired into his defense counsel’s potential personal conflict of interest to determine if the relationship might have affected his right to a fair trial, and that failure to do so requires automatic reversal. The Tenth Circuit concluded Williamson failed to make a showing that his counsel was laboring under an actual conflict of interest, so it rejected his conflict of interest argument based on his defense counsel’s personal relationship with the prosecutor. The Court also rejected Williamson’s alternative arguments for new counsel: that his filing of a criminal complaint against his counsel constituted an actual conflict of interest, and that Williamson demonstrated a complete breakdown of communications between his attorney and himself.