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People v. Travis

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

March 4, 2019

The People of the State of Colorado, Petitioner
v.
April Rose Travis. Respondent

          Certiorari to the Colorado Court of Appeals Court of Appeals Case No. 13CA1431

          Attorneys for Petitioner: Philip J. Weiser, Attorney General Kevin E. McReynolds, Assistant Attorney General Denver, Colorado

          Attorneys for Respondent: Megan A. Ring, Public Defender Kamela Maktabi, Deputy Public Defender Denver, Colorado

          OPINION

          HART JUSTICE

         ¶1 On the day her trial was set to begin, April Travis told the court that she was hoping she could have more time "to look for and pay for an attorney." The trial court denied the request to continue the case, noting that the trial had previously been continued and Travis was already being represented by a public defender. Travis appealed that decision, arguing that her request to look for a lawyer was an invocation of her Sixth Amendment right to be represented by counsel of her choice. A division of the court of appeals agreed, concluding that because Travis had invoked that right, the trial court was required to make a record that it had reviewed each of the factors elaborated in our decision in People v. Brown, 2014 CO 25, 322 P.3d 214.

         ¶2 The right to be represented by counsel of the defendant's choosing is not implicated by a bare request to "look for and pay for" a new lawyer. The trial court was therefore not obligated to review the Brown factors, and its decision to deny Travis's trial-day continuance request was not an abuse of discretion. Accordingly, we reverse the decision of the court of appeals and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         ¶3 On November 20, 2011, Travis and her roommate, a disabled woman for whom Travis was acting as a caregiver, got into a fight. Travis punched her roommate in the face, hit her with a mop handle multiple times, tore out clumps of her hair, and stabbed her in the arm with a kitchen knife. Travis was charged with two counts of assault in the second degree and felony menacing.

         ¶4 On January 19, 2012, the public defender filed an entry of appearance. On June 4, 2012, Travis entered a not guilty plea as to all charges, and the court set Travis's case for trial on November 26, 2012. Prior to the November 2012 trial date, Travis requested a continuance so that she could investigate what she described as issues regarding the victim's character. The People objected to this request for a continuance, but the trial court found good cause and continued the jury trial. The case was reset for trial on April 15, 2013.

         ¶5 At the pretrial conference, which was held five days before the rescheduled trial, Travis's counsel explained to the court that they had been unsuccessful in their attempts to serve the witness who was the basis for Travis's previous motion to continue. The witness was not an eyewitness to the events that formed the basis for the charges, but would, apparently, have spoken to the victim's character and credibility. The trial court told Travis that even if she was unable to secure this witness for trial, he would not grant an additional continuance.

         ¶6 On the morning of trial, Travis made the following request: "My request was that I was going to look for and pay for an attorney. I don't feel this case is fair regarding [the victim]. There's a lot of stuff that needs to come out about her. I don't think it's fair to me." The court then stated:

Well, Ms. Travis, I understand that. This case has been pending for a very long time. You have had plenty of time to decide if you were wanting to hire counsel. [Your public defenders] are extremely experienced and careful attorneys. They have filed all of the appropriate motions. They have worked very hard on your case.
There are rulings that the Court makes that are the Court's responsibility. [Your public defenders] filed motions and made requests, some of which I granted and some of which I denied. Regardless of who the attorney is standing in front of me, I make legal decisions. I don't base them on personalities.
The Court is not going to continue this case. If you are dissatisfied with their representation because you think that they are not adequately representing you and you wish to proceed to trial on your ...

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