June 16, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Court Erred by Allowing Defense Counsel to Withdraw Without Questioning Defendant

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Cardenas on Thursday, July 16, 2015.

Motion to Withdraw—Reversal.

Defendant was found guilty of various counts of second-degree burglary, attempted second-degree burglary, and theft. On appeal, defendant contended that the court’s failure to include him in a hearing on his attorney’s motion to withdraw and failure to inquire about his objections to or confusion about that motion, before allowing the attorney to withdraw, require reversal of his convictions. Defense counsel, who had replaced a public defender, filed a motion to withdraw, citing substantial and irreconcilable differences of opinion concerning the course of scope of representation. The court asked defendant’s counsel about the reasons for withdraw without the presence of defendant, and then asked defendant about the reasons for withdrawal, including difficulties with communication, but did not rule on the motion. The case was transferred to another judge, who held an in camera review without the presence of defendant and thereafter allowed defense counsel to withdraw. Without knowing what communication occurred between counsel and the court, defendant’s absence created a risk that his right to a fair trial was impaired. For this reason and because defendant’s presence was required by the rules of criminal procedure, the second judge abused his discretion in granting the motion without including defendant in the proceedings. Accordingly, the judgment of conviction was reversed, defendant’s sentence was vacated, and the case was remanded for a new trial.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.