State v. Hernaiz
Connecticut precedent requires that exceptional circumstances exist to discharge counsel on the eve of trial. In connection with a stabbing, Esteban Hernaiz was convicted, following a jury trial, of assault in the second degree and carrying a dangerous weapon. He appealed claiming that the trial court abused its discretion in denying his request to replace his trial counsel. The Appellate Court disagreed and affirmed the judgment. The defendant conceded at oral argument that exceptional circumstances did not exist. He noted that no Connecticut authority applying the exceptional circumstances test to factually similar circumstances has allowed for a substitution of counsel. Nevertheless, he urged the Appellate Court to reverse the judgment. The panel was not persuaded. Before making its decision, the trial court thoroughly questioned the defendant and the attorneys. It probed the defendant's reasons for wanting new counselincluding the defendant's claim that his attorney never communicated with him, lied to him and was not doing his best work. He complained that he did not feel safe because the private investigator waited until the last minute to speak to witnesses and wore different colored shoes. The court elicited information from the defendant's attorney about the allegations. The attorney, the fourth counsel in a series for the defendant, detailed how he had prepared for trial and stated his belief that he could continue to represent the defendant. The court asked about the defendant's efforts to obtain new counsel, given that evidence would begin the following morning. The defendant admitted he had not begun to seek new counsel. The court examined the defendant's reasons for seeking new counsel and concluded that they did not establish exceptional circumstances. The court indicated that it would allow a new attorney to enter an appearance if done by the next morning. Given that the defendant made his request the day before evidence was to begin, that the court thoroughly inquired into the defendant's complaint and that the defendant's attorney expressed that he could continue to represent the defendant, the court did not abuse its discretion in finding that exceptional circumstances did not exist and in denying the defendant's request for new counsel.