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Right to Choice of Counsel Reaffirmed in NJ

Raymond Kates was charged with second-degree eluding and fourth-degree resisting arrest by flight, and a number of other criminal violations. State v. Kates, 2014 WL 113724 (N.J. Jan. 14, 2014). He was appointed a lawyer from the Cumberland County Public Defender’s Office, Jeffrey Klavens. Id. at 1. However, on the same day that his trial was set to begin, Kates found out that Klavens might be deployed in the armed forces during the course of the trial and that the second chair would take over the case. Id.

This concerned Kates for a number of reasons, and he requested that he be given time to go out and hire his own attorney who would be able to be present for the trial in its entirety. Id. The trial court denied this request and the trial went forward. Kates was convicted on both of the charges specified above.

He appealed his conviction on the grounds that the trial should have been delayed in order to give him time to hire a different attorney. The Appellate Division found that “the trial court did not adequately elicit facts and apply the relevant factors to reasonably balance defendant’s desire to retain counsel of his choice against the court’s need to proceed with the scheduled trial.” State v. Kates, 426 N.J. Super 32, 51 (App. Div. 2012).

The factors referenced include:

the length of the requested delay; whether other continuances have been requested and granted; the balanced convenience or inconvenience to the litigants, witnesses, counsel, and the court; whether the requested delay is for legitimate reasons, or whether it is dilatory, purposeful, or contrived; whether the defendant contributed to the circumstance which gives rise to the request for a continuance; whether the defendant has other competent counsel prepared to try the case, including the consideration of whether the other counsel was retained as lead or associate counsel; whether denying the continuance will result in identifiable prejudice to defendant’s case, and if so, whether this prejudice is of a material or substantial nature; the complexity of the case; and other relevant factors which may appear in the context of any particular case;

[State v. Furguson,198 N.J.Super. 395, 402 (App Div.) (quoting U.S. v. Burton, 584 F.2d 485, 490–91]

The New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed that, “If a trial court conducts a reasoned, thoughtful analysis of the appropriate factors, it can exercise its authority to deny a request for an adjournment to obtain counsel of choice.” Kates, supra, 2014 WL 113724 (N.J. Jan. 14, 2014). However, the Court concluded that the reasoned analysis was missing in the Kates case.

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