James A. Robson

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In United States v. Gonzalez-Lopez, the United States Supreme Court held that the erroneous disqualification of a criminal defendant's retained choice of counsel violates the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and must result in the automatic reversal of the defendant's conviction. In reaching this conclusion, the Court rejected the Government's argument that a defendant who is denied his choice of counsel must prove prejudice by showing the defendant's substitute counsel was ineffective within the meaning of Strickland v. Washington. Instead, the Court concluded that because a complete violation of the Sixth Amendment's Counsel Clause occurs when a defendant is deprived of his right to counsel of choice, proving prejudice is unnecessary. Gonzalez-Lopez is an important decision because the Court's holding will deter trial judges from exercising their discretion in disqualifying attorneys due to scheduling conflicts, ethical violations, or conflicts of interest because trial judges will fear being reversed on appeal. Additionally, the decision in Gonzalez-Lopez is at odds with the Court's Sixth Amendment jurisprudence and is limited to those defendants with retained counsel, not court-appointed counsel, which illustrates the Court's willingness to treat rich and poor defendants disparately.