Many legal systems throughout the world guarantee a defendant the right to be represented by legal counsel when charged with a crime. If a defendant is unable to afford to hire an attorney, there may be a system for assigning court-appointed attorneys to represent the defendant. If a defendant is not satisfied with the services provided by the court-appointed attorney, there may be an option to request the removal of the attorney, but generally only in extreme circumstances.
There are two basic systems for providing court-appointed attorneys for criminal defendants. The first was used in the United States for many years and continues to be used in other countries throughout the world. In that system, the court appoints a private attorney to represent the defendant and the court or state bears the cost of the representation. Due to the potential for abuse or bias in a system where the judge determines who the defendant's attorney will be, many judicial systems within the United States and in other countries such as Brazil have created separate agencies that employ full-time public defenders. In those systems, the defendant is appointed a public defender, but the agency itself decides which attorney will actually represent the defendant.
Regardless of which system is utilized, a defendant is generally not required to pay for the services of court-appointed attorneys. For this reason, the defendant rarely has the option to decide who will represent him or her. Once court-appointed attorneys are assigned to a case, the defendant must usually show the court extenuating circumstances that would justify the removal of the attorney.
Situations that might compel a court to switch court-appointed attorneys include a conflict of interest, a fundamental difference in opinion regarding the defense that is severe enough to hinder the attorney's ability to perform his or her duties, or action or inaction on the part of the attorney that would constitute a violation of the attorney disciplinary code of conduct. A conflict could exist if the attorney previously represented a co-defendant in the case or a victim in the case. Simple personality conflicts are usually not enough to remove a court-appointed attorney, but if the attorney and client are unable to work together to productively defend the case, then the court may consider appointing another attorney. Clearly, if the attorney has failed to do anything to defend the defendant or has done something that is a violation of the attorney code of conduct, then the defendant may request another attorney be appointed to represent him or her.