Trial Court's Obligation Regarding Claims of Incompetent Counsel
Trial court's obligation regarding claims of incompetent counsel
In Hardwick v. State, 521 So. 2d 1071 (Fla. 1988), the Court adopted the procedure announced in Nelson v. State, 274 So. 2d 256 (Fla. 4th DCA 1973), to be followed when a defendant complains that his appointed counsel is incompetent.
When this occurs, the trial judge is required to make a sufficient inquiry of the defendant to determine whether or not appointed counsel is rendering effective assistance to the defendant. See Howell v. State, 707 So. 2d 674, 680 (Fla. 1998).
However, as a practical matter, the trial judge's inquiry can only be as specific as the defendant's complaint. See Lowe v. State, 650 So. 2d 969 (Fla. 1994).
This Court has consistently found a Nelson hearing unwarranted where a defendant presents general complaints about defense counsel's trial strategy and no formal allegations of incompetence have been made. See Davis v. State, 703 So. 2d 1055, 1058-59 (Fla. 1997); Gudinas v. State, 693 So. 2d 953, 962 n.12 (Fla. 1997); Branch v. State, 685 So. 2d 1250, 1252 (Fla. 1996).
Similarly, a trial court does not err in failing to conduct a Nelson inquiry where the defendant merely expresses dissatisfaction with his attorney. See Davis, 703 So. 2d at 1058-59; Branch, 685 So. 2d at 1252; Dunn v. State, 730 So. 2d 309, 311-12 (Fla. 4th DCA 1999).