California Court of Appeals, Second District, Seventh Division
from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County,
No. TA132994 Laura R. Walton, Judge. Reversed conditionally
and remanded with directions.
Koester, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for
Defendant and Appellant.
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.
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.
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.
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
The Charge and Special Allegations Against Armijo
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,  §§ 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.
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.
Armijo's Letter to the Trial Court Regarding Metoyer
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
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.”
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.
clerk's office in the trial court received Armijo's
letter and file stamped it on February 17, 2015.
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.
Armijo's Letter to the Trial Court Regarding
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.
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 ...