Randolph v. Sec’y Pa. Dept. of Corr.

The week before his capital trial, Randolph hired Sam Stretton to replace his court-appointed counsel. On the Thursday before Monday’s jury selection, Stretton entered his appearance and asked the trial court if it could delay the start of the trial until the following month. Citing previous delays and the proximity to trial, the trial court denied the request. Stretton next asked if the trial court could delay the start of the trial by a couple of days. The court rejected that request, too. Finally, Stretton asked if the trial court could push back Monday morning’s jury selection by three hours so that he could attend a previously scheduled, mandatory engagement in the morning and then pick Randolph’s jury in the afternoon. The trial court denied Stretton’s request. When Stretton did not appear for jury selection, the court denied Stretton’s motion for a continuance and rejected his entry of appearance. Randolph had no choice but to proceed to trial represented by his court-appointed lawyer. The trial ended in convictions on all counts, including two counts of first-degree murder, and the trial court sentenced Randolph to death. On direct appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld Randolph’s convictions and sentence. Years later, on federal habeas review, the District Court determined that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision unreasonably applied clearly established federal law, warranting de novo review of Randolph’s Sixth Amendment claim. The Court then concluded that Randolph suffered a Sixth Amendment violation, a structural error not subject to harmless error analysis. The Court, therefore, granted Randolph’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus and gave the Commonwealth ninety days to retry Randolph or release him. The Third Circuit affirmed, ruling that the decision by the state trial court to deny Stretton’s motion for a continuance prevented Randolph from being represented by his choice of counsel. Because the state trial court offered no justification for denying the continuance motion, its decision violated Randolph’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel of choice.

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