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United States v. Gonzalez-Lopez

Supreme Court of the United States

April 18, 2006, Argued ; June 26, 2006, Decided

No. 05-352

Opinion

 [*142]   [**2560]  Justice Scalia delivered the opinion of the Court.

We must decide whether a trial court's erroneous deprivation of a criminal defendant's choice of counsel entitles him to a reversal of his conviction.

Respondent Cuauhtemoc Gonzalez-Lopez was charged in [****5]  the Eastern District of Missouri with conspiracy to distribute more than 100 kilograms of marijuana. His family hired attorney John Fahle to represent him. After the arraignment, respondent called a California attorney, Joseph Low, to discuss whether Low would represent him, either in addition to or instead of Fahle. Low flew from California to meet with respondent, who hired him.

Some time later, Low and Fahle represented respondent at an evidentiary hearing before a Magistrate Judge. The Magistrate Judge accepted Low's provisional entry of appearance and permitted Low to participate in the hearing on the condition that he immediately file a motion for admission pro hac vice. During the hearing, however, the Magistrate Judge revoked the provisional acceptance on the ground that, by passing notes to Fahle, Low had violated a court rule restricting the cross-examination of a witness to one counsel.

The following week, respondent informed Fahle that he wanted Low to be his only attorney. Low then filed an application for admission pro hac vice. The District Court denied his application without comment. A month later, Low filed a second application, which the District Court [****6]  again denied without explanation. Low's appeal, in the form of an application for a writ of  [***416]  mandamus, was dismissed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

Fahle filed a motion to withdraw as counsel and for a show-cause hearing to consider sanctions against Low. Fahle asserted that, by contacting respondent while respondent was represented by Fahle, Low violated Mo. Rule of Professional Conduct 4-4.2 (1993),  [*143]  which prohibits a lawyer "[i]n representing a client" from "communicat[ing] about the subject of the representation with a party . . . represented by another lawyer" without that lawyer's consent. Low filed a motion to strike Fahle's motion. The District Court granted Fahle's motion to withdraw and granted a continuance so that respondent could find new representation. Respondent retained a local attorney, Karl Dickhaus, for the trial. The District Court then denied Low's motion to strike and, for the first time, explained that it had denied Low's motions for admission pro hac vice primarily because, in a separate case before it, Low had violated Rule 4-4.2 by communicating with a represented party.

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548 U.S. 140 *; 126 S. Ct. 2557 **; 165 L. Ed. 2d 409 ***; 2006 U.S. LEXIS 5165 ****; 74 U.S.L.W. 4453; 33 A.L.R. Fed. 2d 661; 19 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 368

UNITED STATES, Petitioner v. CUAUHTEMOC GONZALEZ-LOPEZ

Prior History:  [****1] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT.

 United States v. Gonzalez-Lopez, 399 F.3d 924, 2005 U.S. App. LEXIS 3798 (8th Cir. Mo., 2005)

Disposition: Affirmed and remanded.

CORE TERMS

the Sixth Amendment, right to counsel, cases, counsel of choice, harmless-error, assistance of counsel, fair trial, disqualification, harmless, first-choice, deprivation, ineffective, reversal, constitutional error, fundamentally unfair, showing of prejudice, trial error, of the Sixth Amendment, automatically, second-choice, defendant's right, pro hac vice, trial court, disqualified, appointed, proceeds, represented by counsel, trial judge, new trial, proceedings

Constitutional Law, Fundamental Rights, Criminal Process, Assistance of Counsel, Criminal Law & Procedure, Counsel, Right to Counsel, General Overview, Standards of Review, Harmless & Invited Error, Constitutional Rights