The right to hire a lawyer of one’s choice is so basic that a defendant who has been wrongly forced to accept a different lawyer is entitled to have a conviction overturned, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday on a 5 to 4 vote, the New York Times reports. There was no dispute that a federal judge in St. Louis improperly denied a motion to permit a lawyer from California to represent the defendant, Cuauhtemoc Gonzalez-Lopez, in a narcotics case.
Failure to grant the motion was a violation of the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to the assistance of counsel, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, in St. Louis ruled. The question for the Supreme Court was what the remedy should be for that violation. Justice Antonin Scalia said for the majority that the right to counsel “commands, not that a trial be fair, but that a particular guarantee of fairness be provided – to wit, that the accused be defended by the counsel he believes to be best.”