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Richard Hughes Justice Complex, in Trenton, New Jersey. Photo: Carmen Natale/ALM Richard Hughes Justice Complex, in Trenton, New Jersey. Photo: Carmen Natale/ALM

On March 23, a divided New Jersey Supreme Court held that defendant Luis Maisonet was not deprived of his constitutional right to counsel when his request to adjourn his murder trial, made on the trial date, was denied. State v Maisonet, __N.J. __ (2021). Defendant had been represented by an assistant deputy public defender for 15 months following his arrest and prior to the day of trial. On the date the trial was to begin, defendant stated that he wanted to retain counsel because his attorney had tried only two cases and neither involved a murder charge. Defendant, who had qualified for representation by the public defender, wanted to ask his family to help in the endeavor.

The majority opinion by Chief Justice Rabner developed the court’s ability to evaluate the appropriate and controlling factors notwithstanding the trial judge’s failure to develop a record and provide reasons in denying the application. The opinion developed the relevant factors for consideration on the application, including the length of the requested delay, whether there had been prior requests and decisions thereon, convenience to litigants, witnesses, counsel and the court, whether the requested adjournment was for legitimate reasons, whether defendant contributed to the circumstances which gave rise to the request, and whether new counsel was prepared to try the case. In Maisonet’s case, among other things, defendant had not previously requested his family’s help to retain counsel, and none was retained.

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