People v. Phillip A. Dodson


Issue Presented: Whether a court must assign new counsel to a defendant that asks for on after a guilty plea, but before sentencing, and wants advice about whether he should move to withdraw his plea.


Held: Where a defendant asks for new counsel following a guilty plea to assess whether he should move to withdraw his plea, and supports that request with “specific allegations regarding counsel’s performance,” the court must grant that request. 


CAL Observes: This brief memorandum decision is more important than it looks, for two reasons. First, the Court for the first time endorses a defendant’s right to a new attorney to assess whether to move to withdraw a guilty plea. Seasoned appellate practitioners know that a pre-sentencing request for new counsel, where a defendant has a change of heart about his decision to plead guilty, is not uncommon. This decision recognizes defendant’s right to a new attorney to assess whether he has grounds for plea withdrawal. 


Second, while the Court of Appeals did not specify what “specific allegations” Dodson made about counsel’s performance that triggered his right to a new attorney, the parties briefs reveal that Dodson did not say much. At sentencing, per the District Attorney’s brief, Dodson told the court that he needed a new lawyer because his attorney did not want to represent him, he wanted an attorney who would tell him his chances on not such a “negative level,” and wanted a lawyer who was “more of a straight shooter.” These allegations, the Court found, were specific enough to warrant the substitution of counsel.