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The Suge Knight Case and Understanding What it Means to Have the Choice of Criminal Defense Counsel of Your Choosing
Marion “Suge” Knight is known for being a West Coast Hip-Hop mogul, and the CEO of “Death Row Records.” Knight has been sent to prison multiple times for crimes from the possession of drugs to aggravated assault. Knight has most recently been arrested for a murder charge. He allegedly tried to run two men down in his vehicle in a parking lot of a fast food restaurant, one man was killed, and the other was seriously injured. Knight turned himself in the next morning and has been in the Los Angeles jail since January 2015. The bail for Knight has been set at a staggering $10 million, which was reduced from $25 million, the trial has been delayed multiple times and is now currently set for May of 2017. During the course of two years, Knight has changed his choice of counsel six times. He has had famous defense attorneys Thomas Measerau, Stephan Schwatz represent him, and now currently his legal team is Antoine D. Williams, Jamal Tooson, and Jeremy Lessem.
Currently, Knight is on his sixth Attorney, in late April he retained the law firm of Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP. The law firm is located in Southern California and have vast experience in criminal trials. It has been speculated that Knight is stalling his trial date, or trying to get an unfair advantage over the prosecution by changing his counsel multiple times over the past two years, however, it is embedded in the United States Constitution that one has the right to change a counsel as Knight has practiced. When the California Supreme Court first interpreted the sixth amendment of the Constitution they stated that, “ A Trial court’s denial of defendant’s motion to substitute new counsel without giving the defendant opportunity to state specific examples of allegedly inadequate representation deprived the defendant of the constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel.” People v. Marsden 2 Cal.3d 118 (1970). Because of this case, there was now an outline provided on how the California Supreme Court would handle a defendant discharging their counsel. However, there would be a more descriptive guide on the reasoning of the courts on this right, and how it should be adopted from now on. “Right to counsel of choice, including right to discharge retained counsel, furthers dual goals of due process: ensuring reliability of guilt-determining process by reducing to minimum the possibility that innocent person will be punished, and protecting ideal of human individuality by affirming state’s duty to refrain from unreasonable interference with defendant’s desire to defend himself in whatever manner he deems best.” People v. Ortiz 51 Cal.3d 975 (1990). Because Knight wishes “defends himself in whatever manner he deems best,” he is allowed to change his counsel as he wishes to do so. This case analogizes the right to dismiss counsel is the same as the right to counsel. So, with Knight changing his counsel multiple times over the two year span of his time in jail it is looked at on similar right as him exercising his right of choice of attorney.
However, the law differentiates between a defendant who has retained an attorney themselves and one who had one appointed to them by the court. “[An] indigent criminal defendant who is seeking to substitute one appointed attorney for another must demonstrate either that first appointed attorney is providing inadequate representation, or that he and attorney are embroiled in irreconcilable conflict.” People v. Ortiz 51 Cal.3d 975 (1990). Because of the need to show an inadequate representation, this puts a higher burden on a defendant with appointed counsel than one who retained their own.
This is different from Knights case because he has a retained counsel, in which he sought out and hired himself. Because all of Knights attorneys in which he had dismissed have all been retained the Ortiz case standard above, stating that defendant “must demonstrate either that first appointed attorney is providing inadequate representation…or irreconcilable conflict,” would not apply to Knight.
Because the right to discharge retained counsel is broader than the right to discharge appointed counsel, a Marsden-type hearing at which the court determines whether counsel is providing adequate representation or is tangled in irreconcilable differences with the defendant is an inappropriate vehicle in which to consider [the defendant’s] complaints against his retained counsel. Instead, under the applicable test for retained counsel, the court should “balance the defendant’s interest in new counsel against the disruption, if any, flowing from the substitution.” (People v. Lara, supra, 86 Cal.App.4th at p. 153, 103 Cal.Rptr.2d 201.) In so doing, the court “must exercise its discretion reasonably: ‘a myopic insistence upon expeditiousness in the face of a justifiable request for delay can render the right to defend with counsel an empty formality.
People v. Keshishian 162 Cal.App.4th 425 (2008). Because of the broader scope for retained counsel Knight would not have to show any signs of inadequate counsel, instead, it would be up to the court to exercise discretion. In Keshishian, the court decided that they would not permit the change of counsel for the defendant. However, this was a very different situation from Knights, because the Defendant in Keshishian wanted to change their counsel last minute which would delay the start date of trial, and offered the statement that they “lost confidence” in their attorney. Because Knights request to change counsel was not last minute, this change should be allowed since it would fall in a reasonable time. Also, Knights trial date has been delayed mostly by his current health issues, not from a change of counsel which is a common misconception of the delay in trial date. Thus, because of the reasons above, Knight was acting within his constitutional rights with changing his retained counsel.
After the court, has approved the change the next step could be problematic for the defendant and the new counsel. Although in one case the evidence was ordered to be given to the new counsel that day, if the Defendant is unsure of who his new counsel is or cannot finance one then, “[Defendant] offers no barrier to appointment of previously discharged counsel: appointment of counsel is properly in the discretion of the court and frequently, as here, it may be a more efficient use of both time and money to appoint the attorney who represented the defendant in an earlier proceeding than to begin again with a new attorney.” People v. Ortiz 51 Cal.3d 975, (1990). The court looks to keep the trial and timeline as close as possible to the original set, even if means bringing in an attorney that is familiar with the case. The specifics of Knights case are unclear but, he has had one defense attorney who remained on counsel but was no longer the leading attorney. This could be because the attorney may be able to smooth over the transition, or possibly been an easier pitch to the court when he brought on the new counsel.
An issue of confidentiality may arise after the attorney is dismissed, especially in Knights situation. Because Knight is charged with murder and he hired multiple attorneys, one would assume that all the talks that occurred were confidential accordingly,
If a privilege is claimed on the ground that the matter sought to be disclosed is a communication made in confidence in the course of the lawyer-client, lawyer referral service-client, physician-patient, psychotherapist-patient, clergy-penitent, marital or domestic partnership, sexual assault counselor-victim, domestic violence counselor-victim, or human trafficking caseworker-victim relationship, the communication is presumed to have been made in confidence and the opponent of the claim of privilege has the burden of proof to establish that the communication was not confidential.
Evid. Code, § 917. But, this is different from the code above because Knight would be a former client. So even though there was a privilege or confidence would it still be applicable once the attorney is dismissed. “After severing the relationship with the former client, the attorney may not do anything which will injuriously affect the former client in any matter in which attorney formerly represented client nor may attorney at any time use against former client knowledge or information acquired by virtue of the attorney-client relationship.” Earl Scheib, Inc. v. Superior Court for Los Angeles County 253 Cal.App.2d 703 (1967). However, even though Knight is a former client to his past attorneys, none of the information given to them can be used against him. Thus, the privilege still stands even after the relationship has ended.
Therefore, changing counsel can vary depending on appointed or retained counsel, and procedure and evidence protocol can alternate after the substitution of counsel.
If you have questions about choosing the best criminal defense attorney for your criminal case in San Diego, feel free to contact San Diego Criminal Lawyer Vik Monder at 619-405-0063 or visit San Diego Criminal Defense Lawyer