What is a ‘Marsden Motion’ in California Criminal Court?

May 04, 2022 by Seppi Esfandi in California  Criminal Defense  
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What are Marsden Motions?

Marsden motions are legal documents prepared by the defendant and filed under the court. The defendant tries to seek the removal of the court-appointed attorney or people’s public defender. The Marsden motion is the only way that a defendant can fire his court-appointed lawyer. The motion takes place in a ‘Marsden hearing’.

The term Marsden motion was adopted from the motion of People V. Marsden in California. The motions covered can be felony cases and misdemeanor cases.

In the case the defendant bringing the motion wanted to remove the court court-appointed public defender due to reasons such as:

1. Ineffective assistance of counsel

A criminal defense attorney who fails to deliver at their work competitively is said to offer inaccurate assistance of counsel. The 6th Amendment of the US constitution bounds every assistance of counsel from violating human rights by failing to meet the standard. If the defendant needs to change a conviction or evade a given ruling, this claim will pass.

All attorneys are bound to become competent in their client’s case on all grounds.

The defendant has the burden of proving prior to receiving the relief to his claim:

  1. The attorney’s conduct had been deficient and thus fell below the standard of being reasonable.
  2. The incompetency of the attorney-led to the defendant’s prejudice.

Ineffective assistance of counsel occurs when the lawyer misses on:

  • Proper evidence object or testimony
  • Preparing and investigating the case appropriately
  • Addressing the prosecutorial misconduct
  • Presenting enough mitigation circumstances that may result in severe sentencing
  • Arguing the appropriate motions

2. Legal malpractice

This is when the lawyer breaches the duty of care accorded to them through the representation of the case. As a result, the client could have been harmed as a result. Thus, this may push for the public defender’s firing if they have malpractice.

3. A conflict between the defendant and his attorney

Conflicts are bound to happen between all persons regardless of their relationship; how we react to the conflict matters greatly and makes a huge difference. A conflict between the defendant and his attorney may lead to poor services delivered; hence they cannot continue working together.

Marsden Hearing

Marsden hearing occurs during the judge’s rule on the Marsden motion. The hearing proceedings are from the courthouse. Some present people within the courthouse include the defendant, the judge, the court reporter, the public defender, and other courtroom staff. The prosecutor is not required to be present and may be disallowed during the hearing to protect the defendant’s confidentiality.

The judge hears reasons why the public defender should be removed and why they should remain. The defendant has to show the ineffectiveness of the public defender. After listening to both sides, a ruling will be passed on the motion. When the judge grants the motion, the public defender is totally removed from the case, and another one is appointed; when the motion is denied, the public defender remains the defendant’s lawyer. Despite this, there are three possible results that a judge can give depending on where the complaint rises:

  1. If the complaint is during the trial, then the public defender is removed, and a new one is appointed.
  2. If the complaint occurs after the trial, the public defendant’s actions will be put to trial if they were effective.
  3. If the complaint is from a sentencing hearing, the court will do away with the sentence and offer a resentence to the defendant.

However, the California courts have several rules as to why a public defender must not be removed:

  1. If the attorney had previously made no motion.
  2. If the public defender did not gather all the motions, the defendant needed to be brought before the court.

Person’s Right to Counsel

This is the 6th Amendment of the US Constitution that states the defendant has the freedom and right to accept or refuse an attorney during a trial; additionally, a defendant has the right to have a public defender to represent them if they cannot afford their personal lawyer. This right is inclusive of another important proceeding that includes the criminal proceedings.

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