State v. Goodwin, 267 N.C.App. 437, 833 S.E.2d 379 (Sept. 17, 2019)

The defendant was charged with drug offenses. A lawyer was appointed to represent him. Immediately before trial, the defendant stated that he wanted to hire a lawyer instead and could afford to do so. A superior court judge determined that appointed counsel was providing effective assistance and denied the defendant’s request to retain counsel. The court of appeals found this to be structural error, as the issue was not whether the defendant was receiving effective assistance or was at an absolute impasse with his attorney, but whether he should be allowed the attorney of his choice. The court stated that “when a trial court is faced with a Defendant’s request to substitute his court appointed counsel for the private counsel of his choosing, it may only deny that request if granting it would cause significant prejudice or a disruption in the orderly process of justice.” The court noted that a last-minute request to change lawyers may cause such prejudice or disruption, but the trial judge did not make any such finding in this case as a result of analyzing the issue under the incorrect standard.