Disqualification Of Counsel Did Not Vioalte Sixth Amendment; Court May Hear Appeals Filed Outside 10-Day Window

US v. Urutyan: Urutyan was convicted of fraud, conspiracy, and aggravated identity theft, based on a scheme to collect PINs from an ATM at a convenience store where he (and other conspirators) worked. Once they had the numbers, the conspirators withdrew about $600,000 from various accounts and wired the money to Russia and Armenia. Urutyan was initially represented by appointed counsel, but eventually retained a California attorney to represent him. Investigation prior to trial revealed that the attorney was being paid by a nearly anonymous third party, likely from some of the proceeds of the conspiracy, and that the attorney was not properly accounting for the cash payments made with the IRS. After a hearing, the district court disqualified retained counsel. Urutyan went to trial with retained local counsel and was convicted.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit affirmed Urutyan's convictions, rejecting the only argument presented, that the district court violated his Sixth Amendment right to counsel when it disqualified the California attorney. The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in disqualifying counsel due to a serious potential conflict of interest, given the investigation into the source of the funds with which he was retained (and the implication that counsel was part of the grander conspiracy).

Before reaching that issue, the Fourth concluded, in line with all other circuits to reach the issue, that the failure to file a timely notice of appeal is not a flaw of jurisdictional dimension, preventing the court from hearing an appeal. Applying recent Supreme Court precedent, the court concluded that the non-statutory 10-day deadline to file a notice of appeal is a claim processing rule, not a jurisdictional requirement.