In a shocking landmark decision, the Utah Supreme Court has decided to strip a man of his right to counsel on Appeal. Curtis Allgier, a man who accepted a plea in the killing of a Utah State Corrections officer while serving time for the parole violation of possession of a firearm, is currently in the process of appealing said plea agreement. However, Allgier is now having to face his appeal without an attorney present.
For what has been described as “threatening behavior” the Utah Supreme Court has decided that this situation creates special circumstances that call for the forfeiture of Allgier’s right to counsel. The threatening behavior alluded to are statements made in Allgier’s attempts to make to remove his attorney by filing a bar complaint. In said complaint, Allgier was quoted stating, “trying to be nice, but [would] resort to other means of removal if [the attorney thought] he could sell [Mr. Allgier] out. . . . he doesn’t want to learn how much I don’t give a damn.”
What is so shocking about this decision is that it contradicts a facet of the sixth amendment to the United States Constitution, which is part of the Bill of Rights.
The Sixth Amendment guarantees and secures many rights in relation to the justice system, such as, among many other, a speedy trial, notice of accusation, trial by jury, and in the case of this instance, the right to legal representation. The Assistance Of Counsel Clause of the sixth amendment states, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right…to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense”.
This clause and this amendment as a whole are one of the most important outlined in the Bill Of Rights, because it guarantees citizens the right to a fair trial, and the right to legal defense from someone who is trained, and educated in the law, and will fight for their freedom. This all but guarantees fair representation and protection in the courtroom.
This decision is shocking because it attacks a cornerstone of the American Legal System. I have a public defender contract through the Salt Lake County Public Defenders and I also represent indigent Federal clients as part of the CJA (Criminal Justice Act). I have had my fair share of “difficult” clients. Defendants often do not realize that they are guaranteed representation, but this does not mean an attorney of their choice.
Regardless of character, guilt, or innocence, all American citizens deserve the right to legal representation. This is an opinion that clearly states that a defendant can go too far. The opinion seems to rest on the idea that Mr. Allgier plead guilty and so his appellate rights are very limited. It would be interesting to see if the opinion would be different if this occurred during the trial phase.
Cara Tangaro, Salt Lake City, Utah Criminal Defense Attorney