Protection of the Right to Retained Counsel
Protection of the Right to Retained Counsel.—The Sixth Amendment has also been held to protect absolutely the right of a defendant to retain counsel of his choice and to be represented in the fullest measure by the person of his choice. Thus, in Chandler v. Fretag,228 when a defendant appearing to plead guilty on a house-breaking charge was orally advised for the first time that, because of three prior convictions for felonies, he would be tried also as an habitual criminal and if convicted would be sentenced to life imprisonment, the court's denial of his request for a continuance in order to consult an attorney was a violation of his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights. "Regardless of whether petitioner would have been entitled to the appointment of counsel, his right to be heard through his own counsel was unqualified.... A necessary corollary is that a defendant must be given a reasonable opportunity to employ and consult with counsel; otherwise, the right to be heard by counsel would be of little worth."229
Where the right to be assisted by counsel of one’s choice is wrongly denied, a Sixth Amendment violation occurs regardless of whether the alternate counsel retained was effective, or whether the denial caused prejudice to the defendant.59 Further, because such a denial is not a “trial error” (a constitutional error that occurs during presentation of a case to the jury), but a “structural defect” (a constitutional error that affects the framework of the trial),60 the Court had held that the decision is not subject to a “harmless error” analysis.61
But the right to retain counsel of choice does not bar operation of forfeiture provisions, even if the result is to deny to a defendant the where-withal to employ counsel. In Caplin & Drysdale v. United States,230 the Court upheld a federal statute requiring forfeiture to the government of property and proceeds derived from drug-related crimes constituting a "continuing criminal enterprise,"231 even though a portion of the forfeited assets had been used to retain defense counsel. While a defendant may spend his own money to employ counsel, the Court declared, "[a] defendant has no Sixth Amendment right to spend another person's money for services rendered by an attorney, even if those funds are the only way that defendant will be able to retain the attorney of his choice."232 Because the statute vests title to the forfeitable assets in the United States at the time of the criminal act,233 the defendant has no right to give them to a "third party" even if the purpose is to exercise a constitutionally protected right.234
225 Alabama v. Shelton, 122 S. Ct. 1764 (2002).
227 Burgett v. Texas, 389 U.S. 109 (1967) (admission of record of prior counselless conviction at trial with instruction to jury to regard it only for purposes of determining sentence if it found defendant guilty but not to use it in considering guilt inherently prejudicial); United States v. Tucker, 404 U.S. 443 (1972) (error for sentencing judge in 1953 to have relied on two previous convictions at which defendant was without counsel); Loper v. Beto, 405 U.S. 473 (1972) (error to have permitted counseled defendant in 1947 trial to have his credibility impeached by introduction of prior uncounseled convictions in the 1930's; Chief Justice Burger and Justices Blackmun, Powell, and Rehnquist dissented); But see Nichols v. United States, 511 U.S. 738 (1994) (as Scott v. Illinois, 440 U.S. 367 (1979) provides that an uncounseled misdemeanor conviction is valid if defendant is not incarcerated, such a conviction may be used as the basis for penalty enhancement upon a subsequent conviction).
228 348 U.S. 3 (1954).
59 United States v. Gonzalez-Lopez, 548 U.S. 140, 144-45 (2006).
61 Gonzalez-Lopez, 548 U.S. at 148-49. The Court noted that an important component of the finding that denial of the right to choose one’s own counsel was a “structural defect” was the difficulty of assessing the effect of such denial on a trial’s outcome. Id. at 149 n.4.
62 There is no obligation to present on appeal all nonfrivolous issues requested by the defendant. Jones v. Barnes, 463 U.S. 745 (1983) (appointed counsel may exercise his professional judgment in determining which issues are best raised on appeal).
Whenever defense counsel is representing two or more defendants and asserts in timely fashion to the trial judge that because of possible conflicts of interest between or among his clients he is unable to render effective assistance, the judge must examine the claim carefully, and unless he finds the risk too remote he must permit or appoint separate counsel.235 Subsequently, the Court elaborated upon this principle and extended it.236 First, the Sixth Amendment right to counsel applies to defendants who retain private counsel as well as to defendants served by appointed counsel. Second, judges are not automatically required to initiate an inquiry into the propriety of multiple representation, being able to assume in the absence of undefined "special circumstances" that no conflict exists. Third, to establish a violation, a defendant must show an "actual conflict of interest which adversely affected his lawyer's performance." Once it is established that a conflict affected the lawyer's action, however, prejudice need not be proved.237
230 491 U.S. 617 (1989).
231 21 U.S.C. § 853.
232 491 U.S. at 626.
233 The statute was interpreted in United States v. Monsanto, 491 U.S. 600 (1989), as requiring forfeiture of all assets derived from the covered offenses, and as making no exception for assets the defendant intends to use for his defense.
234 Dissenting Justice Blackmun, joined by Justices Brennan, Marshall, and Stevens, described the Court's ruling as allowing the Sixth Amendment right to counsel of choice to be "outweighed by a legal fiction." 491 U.S. at 644 (dissenting from both Caplin & Drysdale and Monsanto).
235 Holloway v. Arkansas, 435 U.S. 475 (1978). Counsel had been appointed by the court.
236 Cuyler v. Sullivan, 446 U.S. 335 (1980).
237 446 U.S. at 348-50. For earlier cases presenting more direct violations of defendant's rights, see Glasser v. United States, 315 U.S. 60 (1942); United States v. Hayman, 342 U.S. 205 (1952); and Ellis v. United States, 365 U.S. 674 (1958).
"[T]he right to the assistance of counsel has been understood to mean that there can be no restrictions upon the function of counsel in defending a criminal prosecution in accord with the traditions of the adversary factfinding process that has been constitutionalized in the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments."238 So saying, the Court invalidated a statute empowering every judge in a nonjury criminal trial to deny the parties the right to make a final summation before rendition of judgment which had been applied in the specific case to prevent defendant's counsel from making a summation. The opportunity to participate fully and fairly in the adversary factfinding process includes counsel's right to make a closing argument. And, in Geders v. United States,239 the Court held that a trial judge's order preventing defendant from consulting his counsel during a 17-hour overnight recess between his direct and cross-examination, in order to prevent tailoring of testimony or "coaching," deprived defendant of his right to assistance of counsel and was invalid.240 Other direct and indirect restraints upon counsel and his discretion have been found to be in violation of the Amendment.241 Actions of governmental investigative agents may interfere as well with the relationship of defense and counsel.242
239 425 U.S. 80 (1976).
240 Geders was distinguished in Perry v. Leeke, 488 U.S. 272 (1989), in which the Court upheld a trial court's order that the defendant and his counsel not consult during a 15-minute recess between the defendant's direct testimony and his cross-examination.
241 E.g., Ferguson v. Georgia, 365 U.S. 570 (1961) (where defendant was prevented by statute from giving sworn testimony in his defense, the refusal of a state court to permit defense counsel to question him to elicit his unsworn statement denied due process because it denied him assistance of counsel); Brooks v. Tennessee, 406 U.S. 605 (1972) (alternative holding) (statute requiring defendant to testify prior to any other witness for defense or to forfeit the right to testify denied him due process by depriving him of decision of counsel on questions whether to testify and when).
242 United States v. Morrison, 449 U.S. 361 (1981) (Court assumed that investigators who met with defendant, on another matter, without knowledge or permission of counsel and who disparaged counsel and suggested she could do better without him interfered with counsel, but held that in absence of showing of adverse consequences to representation, dismissal of indictment was inappropriate remedy).