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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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