Constitutional Law

Judge nixed new lawyer, so robbery suspect gets new trial

A convicted robbery suspect has been granted a new trial because of the way a Pennsylvania judge handled his request for a new attorney.

Nelson Alvarado-Lenhart, 35, had asked in December 2011 that his court-appointed defense attorney be replaced, explaining that he was not satisfied with the way the lawyer was handling his case, the Patriot-News reports.

In response, Berks County Court of Common Pleas Judge Scott D. Keller said he felt the original defense attorney’s work was adequate and told Alvarado-Lenhart: “You don’t get to pick and choose who you are assigned,” the newspaper recounts.

Replied the defendant: “I’m not picking and choosing. I’m asking for somebody that’s going to fight for me … I deserve a fair hearing, a fair trial.”

The judge then had Alvarado-Lenhart sign a form that waived his right to counsel and appointed a standby lawyer to advise him as he represented himself, pro se, at trial, says the article, which relies on court records. He was convicted and sentenced in September to a 6- to 15-year prison term.

Under these circumstances, the waiver of counsel was not knowing, intelligent and voluntary, the state superior court held in an opinion this week by President Judge John T. Bender.

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