Can I fire my public defender without having another attorney?
UPDATED: August 14, 2012
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Prisoners can usually fire public defenders assigned to defend them without having another attorney to represent them. However, courts are extremely reluctant to permit attorneys to withdraw on criminal cases where another attorney is not available to pick up the case. Courts are also less inclined to appoint the attorney of your choice to represent you. Many defendants do not feel that their court-appointed attorney is doing enough for them, but your feeling is not going to be enough to get you a different attorney.
Courts are of the opinion that the Constitution requires the appointment of competent counsel - not necessarily the counsel of your choice. If you want a different court-appointed attorney, you must demonstrate something more than a mere perception to get the court to appoint a new attorney. For example, if you can show the court there is a conflict of interest in that your attorney also represents one of your co-defendants or has been deficient in filing relevant motions to protect your rights, you may be able to get a new court-appointed attorney.
Procedure When Changing Attorneys
If the court will not appoint you a new attorney, and you still want to fire your attorney, the court must admonish you about the consequences of proceeding with your case without an attorney. Even though you have not been trained in law, you will be expected to follow all of the same rules and procedures for trial. If you are not aware of the rules, you can end up missing important filing deadlines. For this reason, the courts do not like to discharge an attorney until a new one is available.
You should keep this in mind if you want to fire your court-appointed attorney. A far better route is to hire a new attorney first. Once the new attorney is hired, s/he can file a motion to substitute counsel. This is the procedure where the court permits the old attorney to hand the case over to the new attorney. The orderly transition lessens the possibility that important deadlines are missed.
If you still want to fire your court-appointed lawyer, and you do not have new attorney to come on to your case, many courts will require you to resolve your case yourself—including representing yourself at trial. The cases will not stand still just because you do not have an attorney. If your case does go to trial, the court will most likely appoint the attorney you fired to be on stand-by. They will not participate in the trial, make arguments, or file motions. However, they will be available to answer your questions if you get to a point in the trial where you do not know what to do. How much you use the stand-by attorney will depend on you.
Finding Substitute Counsel
Despite any differences you may have with a court-appointed attorney, going to trial without any representation is extremely dangerous. Many criminal attorneys will work with you or your family to accept payments. Do not delay in contacting and hiring a new attorney if you are intent on firing your court-appointed attorney.