United States v. Griffiths, No. 13-2102-cr (2d Cir. Apr. 25, 2014) (Cabranes, Lynch, and Lohier) (per curiam), available here
Griffiths was tried before a jury on charges of making false statements, obstructing justice, and committing mail fraud. At the close of the evidence, his attorney suffered two strokes. The district court, instead of postponing trial indefinitely or granting a mistrial, appointed an attorney who had not witnessed the presentation of the evidence to deliver the defense summation. The jury convicted.
The defendant argued on appeal that the appointment of substitute counsel to deliver the summation deprived him of his Sixth Amendment right to the effective assistance of counsel. The Circuit disagreed. It held that the district court’s decision to appoint the new lawyer was not a per se violation of the Sixth Amendment right to be represented by one’s counsel of choice and to effective assistance.
The Court further held that, under the unusual circumstances presented, the district court’s decision to appoint substitute counsel was reasonable and did not prejudice the defendant. The Court noted that (1) replacement counsel was “undisputedly competent and prepared,” (2) the defendant refused to consent to a mistrial that would have entailed a waiver of his Fifth Amendment right against double jeopardy, and, (3) before replacing the defendant’s original lawyer and proceeding with the trial, the district court made appropriate efforts to determine whether and when counsel was likely to be able to return to court and effectively represent the defendant. The judge proceeded with the trial only after he was unable to obtain assurances that the original attorney would ever be sufficiently recovered to resume trial.
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