You must try to give defendants chance to proceed pro se if they ask: Taylor
In United States v. Taylor, the Third Circuit reversed a district court for failing to allow Mr. Taylor an opportunity to represent himself. The Third Circuit held that the district court erred when it failed to conduct a hearing after Mr. Taylor invoked his right to represent himself.
RELEVANT FACTS: Difficult Defendant, Frivolous Arguments, Uncaring Court
Donte Taylor was out on state parole. His home was searched and officers found weed, crack, and a gun. Taylor was then arrested and charged with possession with intent to distribute under 21 USC Sec. 841. Taylor was appointed counsel.
A motion to suppress was filed and a hearing was set. Prior to the hearing, Mr. Taylor started filing pro se (i.e., he wrote them himself) motions for his immediate release with the court. The motions contained arguments that were entirely without merit.
After the second pro se filing, Taylor’s court appointed attorney moved to withdraw. His attorney said there was a breakdown in the relationship because Taylor was trying to force him to make these outlandish arguments on his behalf. The district court denied the motion to withdraw.
The next day, the attorney moved to withdraw again. In the second motion the attorney explained that Taylor told him he was fired and that Taylor “desired to proceed pro se.” Taylor kept filing more and more pro se motions.
The district court held another hearing and took up the request to proceed pro se at the beginning of the hearing. At this hearing Taylor addressed the court at length, read irrelevant definitions from legal books, and made some bizarre arguments.
The motion to proceed pro se was denied. Taylor later went to trial with a different court appointed attorney and was convicted. Taylor appealed.
ISSUE PRESENTED: Did court properly deny Taylor’s request to exercise right to self-representation?
HOLDING: No. Denial of request was structural error and reversal was required.
ANALYSIS: Improper focus on Taylor’s misunderstanding of law when denying request.
The right to represent oneself at trial is at the core of the Sixth Amendment guarantee. Thus, courts have to be very careful when they deny a person’s request to represent themselves at trial. The Third Circuit has a specific test that requires the court to determine the defendant:
1) has clearly and unequivocally asserted his desire to represent himself;
(2) understands the nature of the charges, the range of possible punishments, potential defenses, technical problems that [he] may encounter, and any other factors important to a general understanding of the risks involved; and
(3) is competent to stand trial.
See United States v. Jones, 452 F.3d 223, 228-89 (3d Cir. 2006).
At issue in the Taylor case was the second part of the test. Taylor argued that the court improperly focused on whether Taylor could effectively represent himself as opposed to whether Taylor understood the charges and the risk of waiving his right to counsel.
The district court committed structural error when it denied Taylor’s request. The court focused on the fact that Taylor wanted to make “sovereign citizen” arguments when denying his request to proceed pro se, but that was improper. Reversed and remanded.
What does this case mean?
Whenever a court wants to try and deny the right to represent yourself the court must be very careful to ensure that the Sixth Amendment is not violated. As long as someone is competent, it is very rare that a court can properly deny a person’s timely request to proceed without an attorney. If that right is violated then the reversal is automatic because this is a structural error.
Did you request to represent yourself to the court but that request was denied? If so, contact the Law Office of Jeremy Gordon to see if you can get back into court today. Contact our office via email at [email protected] or telephone at 972-483-4865 to see if we can help you fight your case.