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7th Circuit expands inquiry to implicit motion for new attorney

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals expanded caselaw today when ruling on a defendant’s request for new counsel.

The Circuit judges – which included retired United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor sitting by designation – found the reasoning United States v. Zillges, 978 F.2d 369, 371 (7th Cir. 1992), applies whether a complaint is phrased in terms of an express motion for a new attorney or whether a defendant only makes an implicit motion.

Zillges holds that the court has a duty to inquire into the basis for the client’s objection to counsel and should withhold a ruling until reasons are made known. When an accused raises for the first time a complaint about his attorney, the court must rule on the matter.

During the second day of his trial for illegal possession of a firearm by a felon and various drug-distribution offenses, Adam Williams spoke to the judge outside of the presence of the jury about how he hadn’t see one of the video recordings played until it was shown by the prosecution, even though he requested to review all video prior to trial. He said he felt his attorney failed him.  U.S. District Judge James Moody told him it was “too late,” that the case would go forward, and that he didn’t really care what Williams thought.

Even the government admitted the court should have inquired further into William’s concerns instead of abruptly silencing him.

Because it was the first time the 7th Circuit addressed when a District Court didn’t inquire into a defendant’s concerns about his attorney, the judges established that the District Court’s abuse of discretion will only result in a new trial if Williams can show prejudice. Williams was unable to satisfy his burden under either prong of the test outlined in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), ruled the court in United States of America v. Adam Williams, No. 09-3174.

The appellate court also delved into the recent rulings of District of Columbia v. Heller, 128 S. Ct. 2783 (2008), and United States v. Skoien, 587 F.3d 803 (7th Cir. 2009). Williams argued that the felon-in-possession statute, 18 U.S.C. Section 922(g)(1), is unconstitutional as applied to him. The Circuit judges examined his claim using the intermediate scrutiny framework without determining that it would be the precise test applicable to all challenges to gun restrictions.

The government satisfied its burden that its objective to keep guns out of the hands of violent offenders is an important one and it is advanced by means substantially related to that objection.

“And although we recognize that § 922(g)(1) may be subject to an overbreadth challenge at some point because of its disqualification of all felons, including those who are non-violent, that is not the case for Williams,” who as a violent offender isn’t the ideal candidate to challenge the constitutionality of Section 922(g)(1), wrote Judge Michael Kanne. Because he was convicted of a violent felony, his claim that the law unconstitutionally infringes on his right to possess a firearm is without merit.

 

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  1. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  2. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  3. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  4. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

  5. Can I get this form on line,if not where can I obtain one. I am eligible.

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