Morris v. Slappy
Annotate this Case
461 U.S. 1 (1983)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Morris v. Slappy, 461 U.S. 1 (1983)
Morris v. Slappy
Argued December 1, 1982
Decided April 20, 1983
461 U.S. 1
When respondent was charged in California Superior Court with various crimes, including rape, robbery, and burglary, all concerning the same female victim, the court assigned the Deputy Public Defender to defend respondent. The Deputy Public Defender represented respondent at the preliminary hearing and supervised an extensive investigation. Shortly before the trial, the Deputy Public Defender was hospitalized for surgery, and six days before the scheduled trial date, a senior trial attorney in the Public Defender's Office was assigned to represent respondent. After the trial was under way, respondent moved for a continuance, claiming that his newly assigned attorney did not have time to prepare the case. The attorney, however, told the court that he was fully prepared and "ready" for trial, and the court denied a continuance. Respondent was convicted on some counts, but there was a mistrial on other counts on which the jury could not agree. A second trial, during which respondent refused to cooperate with his lawyer, also resulted in convictions. The California Court of Appeal affirmed the convictions on all counts, and the California Supreme Court denied review. Thereafter, respondent filed a habeas corpus petition in Federal District Court, alleging that the California Superior Court abused its discretion in denying a continuance. The District Court denied the writ. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the Sixth Amendment guarantees a right to counsel with whom the accused has a "meaningful attorney-client relationship," and that the state trial judge abused his discretion
and violated this right by arbitrarily denying a continuance that would have permitted the Deputy Public Defender to try the case.
Held: The state trial court did not violate respondent's Sixth Amendment right to counsel by denying a continuance. Pp. 461 U. S. 11-15.
(a) Broad discretion must be granted trial courts on matters of continuances. Here, in the face of an unequivocal and uncontradicted statement by a responsible officer of the court that he was fully prepared and "ready" for trial, it was far from an abuse of discretion to deny a continuance. Nor is there any merit to the claim that the denial of a continuance prevented the substituted attorney from being fully prepared for trial. Pp. 461 U. S. 11-12.
(b) In holding that the trial judge violated respondent's right to counsel by arbitrarily refusing a continuance that would have permitted the Deputy Public Defender to try the case, the Court of Appeals misread the record and the controlling law and announced a new constitutional standard -- "meaningful attorney-client relationship" -- that is unsupported by any authority. The court erred in reading the record as indicating that respondent timely and in good faith moved for a continuance to permit the Deputy Public Defender to represent him. On the contrary, the record shows that the trial court was abundantly justified in denying respondent's midtrial motion for a continuance so as to have the Deputy Public Defender represent him. The Sixth Amendment does not guarantee a "meaningful relationship" between an accused and his counsel.c No court could possibly guarantee that an accused will develop the kind of rapport with his attorney that the Court of Appeals thought to be part of the Sixth Amendment guarantee of counsel. Pp. 461 U. S. 12-14.
(e) In creating a novel Sixth Amendment right to counsel with whom the accused has a "meaningful relationship," and ordering retrial, the Court of Appeals failed to take into account the interest of the victim in not undergoing the ordeal of yet a third trial. There is nothing in the record to support the conclusion that respondent was entitled to a new trial, and the District Court properly denied relief. Pp. 461 U. S. 14-15.
649 F.2d 718, reversed and remanded.
BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the result, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 461 U. S. 15. BLACKMUN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which STEVENS, J., joined, post, p. 461 U. S. 29.