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Van Hollen Applauds Wisconsin Supreme Court Decision Upholding A Seven-Count Conviction Arising Out of a 200 Rash of Break-Ins and Car Thefts on Milwaukee's East Side

 

"Criminal defendants are constitutionally entitled to fair trials and effective representation.  However, when the State is providing for their representation, defendants do not have the right to reject their attorneys without a good reason.  Giving indigent defendants a constitutional right to choose appointed attorneys would be costly and place unwarranted stress on an already burdened criminal justice system," said Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen

 

MADISON - The Wisconsin Supreme Court today affirmed the conviction of Dwight Glen Jones for seven counts involving a 2005 break-in and car theft in a parking structure on Milwaukee's east side.  Adopting the Department's position in the case, the Court held that indigent defendants do not have a constitutional right of appointed counsel of their choice.  Instead, indigent defendants are entitled to the effective assistance of counsel.  In Jones' case, the Court determined that there was no breakdown in communication between Jones and his counsel which frustrated a fair presentation of the case.  Even the concurrence recognized that "providing indigent defendants with unfettered choice of counsel would impose impossible administrative burdens on the office of the state public defender and on circuit courts."

 

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen praised the high court's decision.  "Criminal defendants are constitutionally entitled to fair trials and effective representation.  However, when the State is providing for their representation, defendants do not have the right to reject their attorneys without a good reason.  Giving indigent defendants a constitutional right to choose appointed attorneys would be costly and place unwarranted stress on an already burdened criminal justice system."

 

Jones requested a new trial on the grounds that the circuit court erred when it denied his request to substitute a new appointed attorney.  The Supreme Court determined that the  circuit court had applied the proper factors in determining that substitution of counsel was not warranted.  Specifically, the Court determined that the record indicated that Jones and his trial counsel had communicated effectively.  With respect to Jones' claim that he had a constitutional right to reject his appointed attorney, the Court concluded:

            We reject as well Jones' argument that indigent defendants with appointed counsel have a right, under the constitutions of Wisconsin and the United States, to reject appointed counsel in favor of substitute counsel.  Jones has not cited any case where a court has so held, and we are unaware of any.  Of course, nothing bars a defendant from requesting substitution of counsel, nothing bars the SPD from choosing to make substitute counsel available, and nothing bars a court from granting such a request.  The question is whether a court is required by the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution or by Article I, Section 7 of the Wisconsin Constitution to do so solely because a defendant requests it.  This court and the United States Supreme Court have held that it does not.  As the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals put it, the Sixth Amendment does not guarantee a "friendly and happy attorney-client relationship," but rather effective assistance of counsel.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court's decision in State v. Dwight Glen Jones, No. 2008AP2342-CR, appears at the Court's website:
http://www.wicourts.gov/sc/opinion/DisplayDocument.pdf?content=pdf&seqNo=51868

 

The Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office prosecuted Jones in Milwaukee County Circuit Court.  Assistant Attorney General Lee Pray represented the State of Wisconsin in the Wisconsin Supreme Court.