Can I Change Criminal Defense Lawyers If I Am Unhappy with the One Representing Me?

The Constitution gives every person the right to a lawyer if they are prosecuted for a crime that could result in a jail sentence. The effective assistance of counsel is part of that right. A lawyer is more than a warm body. To fulfill the right to counsel, a lawyer must provide competent representation.

Clients sometimes believe that their lawyers are not giving them the representation they deserve. They may also disagree with their lawyer’s choice of strategy. Personality conflicts occasionally develop between a client and a lawyer. For any of those reasons, a client might want to be represented by a different lawyer.

In case you are innocent and not sure if you need a lawyer to represent you, read this blog post discussing this issue.

Choice of Counsel

As a general rule, when a client decides to retain a lawyer in a criminal case, the client has a right to choose any lawyer who is admitted to practice before the court where the case is pending. Of course, the client and the lawyer must come to an agreement about the terms of that representation.

After a client retains a lawyer, the client generally has the right to fire the lawyer and choose a different attorney. The right to choice of counsel continues throughout the case. There are nevertheless some limits on that right.

After charges are filed, the right to fire a lawyer is subject to oversight by the court. The judge may want to assure that the defendant is represented at all times. Judges will sometimes require a lawyer to continue representing a defendant until the defendant has hired a new lawyer. When the new lawyer is hired, substituting the new lawyer for the former lawyer is usually a simple and routine procedure.

There are a couple of exceptions to the client’s right to hire a new attorney. First, if the new lawyer has a conflict of interest, the judge might decline to allow that lawyer to represent the defendant. Fortunately, those situations are rare.

Second, if the client wants to change attorneys on the eve of trial, the judge might disallow the substitution unless the new lawyer is prepared to proceed with the trial as scheduled. Judges are wary of a substitution of counsel being used as a delaying tactic.

Appointed Counsel

While clients generally have a constitutional right to choose their own attorneys, that right only applies to the attorneys they retain. When a defendant qualifies for an appointed lawyer, the client must usually accept the attorney who has been appointed for that client.

In federal cases, appointed attorneys may be assigned by the Federal Public Defender or a private attorney might be appointed by the court. Similarly, a defendant being prosecuted by the state might be represented by a public defender or by a court-appointed private attorney.

While the right to choice of counsel applies only to attorneys who are privately retained, clients who are dissatisfied with an appointed attorney can request a new attorney. That request may or may not be granted. If a change of attorney is allowed, the client will rarely be allowed a second change of attorney.

If you need legal advice, contact the Law Office of Raphael M. Scheetz. ⠀
Located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, we are here to help you through any complicated legal matter.

If you lost a trial, this blog post will help you to understand if you have the right to appeal.



I was so lucky that Mr. Scheetz was my Immigration Lawyer. Everything seemed to turn from black to white after meeting with him. His immediate attention and action were extremely impressive. Thank you!

– Gina B.

I am so grateful for what Mr. Scheetz did for my cousin William J., he saved his life. And also he proved me wrong. My family and I are eternally thankful for all his efforts.

– Mike N.