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People v. Armijo

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Seventh Division

April 19, 2017

THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
RAMON ARMIJO, Defendant and Appellant.

         APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. TA132994 Laura R. Walton, Judge. Reversed conditionally and remanded with directions.

          James Koester, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.

          Kamala D. Harris and Xavier Becerra, Attorneys General, Gerald A. Engler, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Lance E. Winters, Assistant Attorney General, Steven D. Matthews, Analee J. Brodie and Lindsay Boyd, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

          SMALL, J. [*]

         Ramon Armijo appeals from a judgment of conviction entered following his negotiated plea of no contest to attempted murder and admission to sentencing enhancement allegations. Prior to his plea, Armijo sent two letters to the trial court expressing concern that the public defenders assigned to represent him had provided ineffective assistance. Armijo requested in the letters that the court discharge those attorneys and appoint replacement counsel. Armijo contends that his plea and conviction should be vacated because the trial court committed reversible error under People v. Marsden (1970) 2 Cal.3d 118 (Marsden) by failing to hold a hearing on his requests.

         We agree with Armijo that Marsden error occurred here. Armijo's request in his first letter became moot when, through no action of the trial court itself, the attorneys about whom Armijo complained in that letter were replaced by another court-appointed counsel. However, the trial court later erred in failing to hold a Marsden hearing on Armijo's second letter, which requested the discharge of the replacement counsel and the substitution of another counsel. On the record before us, this error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Accordingly, we conditionally reverse the judgment and remand with directions to the trial court to hold a Marsden hearing and to appoint new counsel for Armijo if the court concludes that the assistance rendered by his previous attorney was inadequate. We direct the court to reinstate the judgment, however, if it concludes otherwise following the Marsden hearing and thus declines to appoint new counsel, or if it appoints new counsel and that counsel either declines to file a motion to vacate Armijo's plea or the court denies any such motion that is filed.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         A. The Charge and Special Allegations Against Armijo

         This case arises out of an April 11, 2014 incident in which Armijo allegedly stabbed a man with a “bayonet type knife.” Following a preliminary hearing on July 29 and 30, 2014, the People filed an information charging Armijo with attempted willful, deliberate and premeditated murder (Pen. Code, [1] §§ 187, subd. (a), 664), and specially alleging he had personally used a deadly weapon (§ 12022, subd. (b)(2)). The information also specially alleged Armijo had suffered one prior serious or violent felony conviction within the meaning of the three strikes law (§§ 667, subds. (b)-(j), 1170.12) and section 667, subdivision (a)(1). Armijo pleaded not guilty and denied the special allegations at his August 13, 2014 arraignment.

         Deputy Public Defender Delia Metoyer represented Armijo at his preliminary hearing and arraignment, and then at nine pretrial conferences from September 4, 2014 through January 13, 2015. On January 5, 2015, Metoyer filed on Armijo's behalf a motion to set aside the information under section 995. A different deputy public defender, however, Diana Alexander, represented Armijo at a January 22, 2015 pretrial conference; Alexander informed the trial court that the case had been reassigned to her. The court granted Alexander's oral motion made on Armijo's behalf to continue the case to March 9, 2015.

         B. Armijo's Letter to the Trial Court Regarding Metoyer and Alexander

         After Alexander replaced Metoyer, Armijo sent a letter dated February 2, 2015 to the trial court. In the letter, Armijo expressed concerns about Metoyer's past handling of his defense and the prospect of being represented going forward by Alexander.

         To begin with, Armijo stated that following the preliminary hearing, he asked Metoyer “several questions about the direction of my case, ” but that Metoyer “seemed to have difficulty making time to answer my questions or provide reasonable explanations in person or over the phone if she accepted my collect calls.” Armijo further stated that during one phone conversation he asked Metoyer “about the progress being made by her investigator and she admitted she had not been in contact with him.” Armijo described Metoyer as “inexperienced and overwhelmed by her caseload and schedule demands.” He also said that Metoyer had told him that she “had a family emergency involving her grandparents” and, as a result, she did not have time in December 2014 to file his section 995 motion. Armijo additionally complained that, after the motion was filed, Metoyer “never bothered to discuss it with me.”

         Armijo also said in the letter that he learned on January 22, 2015 that “Metoyer was no longer able to represent me and that my case would be continued for another 45 days” to March 9, 2015. Referring to Alexander, Armijo stated that he was concerned that his case had been reassigned from Metoyer to “another overwhelmed and inexperienced public defender.” He thus requested that the court order a different state-appointed attorney to be assigned to his case to replace Metoyer and Alexander.

         The clerk's office in the trial court received Armijo's letter and file stamped it on February 17, 2015.

         Armijo's next court date following the court's receipt of his letter was the March 9, 2015 pretrial conference that the court had set at Alexander's request. But at that conference, Deputy Public Defender Francine Logan, not Alexander, appeared on Armijo's behalf. Logan informed the court that she “ha[d] just been assigned [to the] case.” She described the discovery as “voluminous” and moved to continue the case to April 9, 2015. In granting that motion, the trial court told Armijo that he had been “extremely patient, ” but that because Logan was newly assigned to the case, she “need[ed] additional time... to prepare for [the] trial.” There is no indication in the record that Logan was assigned to the case to replace Metoyer and/or Alexander as a result of any action that the trial court took in response to Armijo's February 2, 2015 letter requesting appointment of new counsel. The court did not a hold a hearing on the request or make any mention of it at the March 9, 2015 conference.

         C. Armijo's Letter to the Trial Court Regarding Logan

         On April 9, 2015, a different deputy public defender stood in for Logan to represent Armijo that day and requested that the case be trailed to April 15, 2015; the trial court granted that request. On April 15, yet another deputy public defender stood in for Logan and requested that the case be trailed to April 21, 2015; the court granted that request as well. It is not clear from the record precisely why Logan was absent at the April 9 and 15 pretrial conferences.

         On the heels of the April 15 pretrial conference, Armijo sent a second letter, dated April 16, 2015, to the trial court. In this letter, Armijo expressed ...


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