People v. Beard
Beard appealed from a judgment convicting him of criminal sale of a controlled substance. A unanimous panel reversed the judgment and granted a new trial. The panel agreed with Beard that he was entitled to a new trial because the County Court violated his right to counsel. Beard articulated sufficient complaints about his assigned counsel that were serious to trigger the court's duty to engage in a limited inquiry regarding the complaints. Yet the County Court interrupted Beard and engaged in an off-the-record discussion with attorneys, then explained to Beard that the trial, which he claimed he was unaware of, would proceed as a confidential witness was brought from Texas at great expense. The panel ruled the County Court violated Beard's fundamental right to counsel by failing to make any inquiry regarding his "serious complaints" concerning his assigned counsel, including that he had never previously spoken with counsel, was uncomfortable proceeding to trial with him and was unaware trial was beginning on the date in question. The panel stated the court could have undertaken a limited inquiry, but could not summarily dismiss Beard's specific and unrefuted complaints.