Home Definition What Is Marsden Motion (Legal Definition And Overview)

What Is Marsden Motion (Legal Definition And Overview)

What is a Marsden Motion?

How do you legally define it?

What are the important elements you should know!

Keep reading as we have gathered exactly the information that you need!

Let’s dig into our legal dictionary!

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Let’s get started!

Marsden Motion Basics

A Marsden Motion is a legal document filed by a defendant in court requesting that the court fire or terminate the mandate of its court-appointed attorney.

This type of request is called the “Marsden Motion” getting its name from the California court case People v. Marsden where Marsden had brought forth such a request to the court.

Typically, a Marsden Motion can be filed (and a Marsden Hearing held) in cases relating to misdemeanor or felony.

In the United States, a criminal defendant’s right to counsel is guaranteed by the Constitution.

If the defendant cannot pay an attorney privately, the court will appoint a public defender to represent the accused free of charge.

When a public defender is appointed, many defendants wonder:

  • Can I fire my public defender?
  • Can I fire my court-appointed attorney?

The answer is yes, you can file a public defender provided you file a Marsden Motion and have the trial judge grant your motion to replace counsel.

We’ll look at this in more detail in this article, so keep reading!

Marsden Motion definition

How do you define a Marsden Motion?

A Marsden Motion is a legal request or motion filed by a criminal defendant to have his or her court-appointed counsel replaced or discharged.

Since the defendant to whom a legal defender was appointed is not authorized to discharge or terminate his or her counsel’s mandate, the legal procedures require that the trial court exercise its discretion in granting or denying such a request.

Why file a Marsden Motion

Why file a motion to file the court-appointed attorney?

The reason why a defendant will consider filing a Marsden Motion is that he or she wants to terminate its public defender.

Typically, the reasons for that are related to poor legal defense offered by the public defender, legal malpractice or even an irreconcilable dispute or conflict between the attorney and the defendant.

For instance, in California, the only way a defendant can replace the public defender is by filing a motion to that effect and get the court to authorize it.

How to fire a public defender

To fire a public defender, the defendant must file a Marsden Motion laying out the reasons why he or she believes that the current court-appointed attorney must be fired.

Once the motion is filed, the court will then hear the defendant and the parties involved to render a decision.

At the Marsden hearing, you’ll typically have the following parties present:

  • The defendant
  • The public defender
  • A court reporter
  • Prosecutor (sometimes)

The prosecutor may not necessarily be present in case the defendant intends to invoke arguments that should remain confidential or is protected by the attorney-client privilege.

At the hearing, the defendant and public defendant present their arguments so the court can have a better overall understanding of the issue.

Just like most motions filed, the burden of proof is on the moving party.

In this case, the defendant has to prove to the satisfaction of the court that the public defender should be terminated or replaced.

Marsden hearing

A Marsden hearing is essentially a court hearing held further to the filing of a defendant filing a motion to request a new public defender to be appointed in the case.

In the California state court, a criminal defendant is not able to fire a court-appointed attorney.

To do that, the trial judge must hear the reasons why the defendant believes the public defender is ineffective and should be replaced.

The Marsden hearing is a special means where the defendant can communicate directly with the court (instead of dealing through the public defender).

At the hearing, the court will evaluate the arguments about the public defender’s competency, ability to work with the defendant and if there is a conflict justifying the replacement of counsel.

Burden of proof 

To prove that the public defender is not fit to continue representing the defendant in the case, sufficient arguments must be presented to the court justifying the public defender’s replacement.

Typically, the defendant will present the following arguments to court:

  • The public defender’s representation is so ineffective or flawed that it is depriving him or her of adequate defense and the right to a fair trial
  • The appointed counsel is not providing effective legal representation
  • There is an irreconcilable conflict between the defendant and the public defender that may render future legal representation ineffective or prejudicial 

The defendant’s burden of proof is to demonstrate that the attorney’s conduct was deficient based on objective standards of reasonableness and that the attorney’s lack of competence has caused prejudice to the defendant.

In the U.S., a criminal defendant’s right to counsel is protected by the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution.

As a result, the defendant is entitled to be represented during trial and if the defendant does not have the means to pay for an attorney, a public defender will be appointed at no cost to the accused.

However, once a public defender is appointed, the defendant cannot just fire the attorney based on subjective feelings or other.

A Marsden Motion has to be filed, proper reasons invoked, a Marsden hearing must be held and the defendant’s burden of proof must be met.


So what is the legal definition of Marsden Motion?

Let’s look at a summary of our findings.

Marsden Motion:

  • A Marsden Motion is a motion filed in the California state court where the defendant in a criminal case asks the court permission to fire the public defender
  • The defendant has to prove why the court-appointed counsel should be replaced
  • Once a motion is filed, a Marsden hearing is held where the parties are heard
  • The defendant has the burden of proof 
Admission on Motion
Adoption of Motions
Adoption Promotion Act of 2003
Ballard Motion
Borson Motion
Brady Motion
Civil Commotion
Editorial Staffhttps://lawyer.zone
Hello Nation! I'm a lawyer and passionate about law. I've practiced law in a boutique law firm, worked in a multi-national organization and as in-house counsel. I've been around the block! On this blog, I provide you with golden nuggets of information about lawyers, attorneys, the law and legal theories. Enjoy!


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