Friday, September 30, 2005

2254 relief granted for Sixth Amendment violation -- trial court denied counsel's request for continuance and defendant proceeded to trial pro se

Defendant was charged in New Jersey state court on multiple counts of theft by deception involving prospective buyers whose investments in a failed condominium development were not refunded. Counsel was appointed, but a few months before trial was scheduled to begin new counsel was appointed and requested a continuance in view of the lengthy witness list counsel just received, the need to conduct extensive interviews and the late production of discovery. The trial court denied the continuance request, and the defendant then elected to represent himself at trial because he was more familiar with the facts and witnesses than was his new counsel. The trial court granted the request to proceed pro se, and counsel remained as back-up. After losing at trial and on direct appeal, defendant filed under 2254. The Third Circuit reversed the district court's denial of relief, concluding that the denial of the request for continuance rendered the defendant's waiver of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel involuntary and that the state courts' decision was contrary to and an unreasonable application of established Supreme Court law. Pazden v. Maurer, http://www.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/034236p.pdf

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