George Huguely, the former University of Virginia lacrosse player accused of killing his girlfriend, is asking the US Supreme Court to review his murder conviction.
The issue is whether his right to a fair trial was violated when the judge refused to delay the proceedings after one of his lawyers got sick.
Huguely was found guilty in 2012 of second-degree murder in the death of Yeardley Love. Prosecutors said after a day of drinking, he went to her apartment, kicked open the door, and got into a physical fight with her. The jury found that the injuries she suffered caused her death, and he was sentenced to 23 years in prison.
On the day when doctors were to testify as critical defense witnesses, one of his lawyers became severely ill. Huguely asked for a continuance, but the judge refused, saying that the other lawyer was perfectly capable of handling the presentation of their testimony. A Virginia appeals court agreed.
Huguely, now represented by former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement, argues that a core protection of the Sixth Amendment guarantee of a fair trial is the right of a defendant to choose the defense lawyers.
That right is absolute, Clement says.
"The fact that the defendant continued to receive constitutionally effective assistance of counsel does not excuse a violation of the right to counsel of choice," he said.
The federal appeals courts are divided on whether a defendant must show some harm to the conduct of the trial in order to prove a violation of the right to counsel of choice. They're also split on how the rule applies when a defendant, such as Huguely, has more than one lawyer.