Constitutional implications in self-representation.

Author:Levine, Caroline Johnson
 
FREE EXCERPT

The Constitution of the State of Florida is a remarkable document, which contains the keys to every part of the law that will be relied upon by Florida's citizens several times in the course of their lives. It is reminiscent of a sturdy oak tree, from which all of the legislatively enacted branches and leaves extend from. A curious component of Florida's constitutional text is the ease in which the constitution can be amended. In fact, the entire document has been revised several times, with the latest version officially enacted on November 5, 1968. (1)

As certainly as a gardener prunes ineffective branches and sweeps away dead leaves, voters in Florida have become very familiar with the ease with which the Florida Constitution can be amended, as they are faced with several new amendments to ratify every two years. (2) Florida's constitutional provisions allowing the process of freely enacting amendments may be borne of the amendment process provided for in the U.S. Constitution. (3) However, it is much easier to amend Florida's Constitution, as there are five available methods of amendment. (4)

It naturally follows that state constitutions take some direction and inspiration from the U.S. Constitution. (5) Further, it is interesting to determine how each individual state addresses its presumed directives from the U.S. Constitution. This is illustrated in the many criminal laws and case decisions that attempt to address a never ending litany of criminal activity and seemingly novel facts and circumstances. The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides that individuals, who are arrested by law enforcement officers, may receive the assistance of a defense attorney in order to provide a legal defense to formal criminal charges. (6) The Florida Constitution mirrors this requirement; however, it specifies additional matters that must be addressed in criminal cases. (7)

It is important to note, that a criminal defendant may waive his right to a defense attorney's legal assistance. (8) This waiver of legal assistance is occasionally motivated by a defendant's desire to retain control over the trial proceedings. (9) A defendant's dismissal of a court-appointed attorney can be critical in the development of his case, as a defendant who chooses to utilize the services of a defense attorney, relinquishes a great deal of control in his criminal case. (10) In McKenzie v. State, (11) the Florida Supreme Court addressed many of the issues created by a defendant who chooses to represent himself in criminal proceedings. (12)

On October 4, 2006, Norman Blake McKenzie drove to Randy Peacock and Charles Johnston's residence in order "to borrow money from Johnston because of [McKenzie's] drug addiction." (13) On this particular occasion, McKenzie asked Johnston for a hammer in order to fix McKenzie's vehicle and Johnston provided McKenzie with a hatchet. (14) Johnston's neighbors believed that he was a kindhearted person who would always extend a helping hand to others. (15) One such neighbor, Kathy Nickoloff, shared that Johnston "would bring [friends] in and try to rehabilitate them and help them out, and he paid them." (16) McKenzie used the hatchet to strike Johnston twice in the head and also to strike Peacock twice in the head. (17) "McKenzie returned to the shed, and when he observed that Johnston was still alive, he struck Johnston one or more times with the hatchet" and stole Johnston's wallet from his pants. (18) Further, "McKenzie observed that Peacock was struggling to stand up, so he grabbed a knife and stabbed Peacock multiple times" and took Peacock's wallet and motor vehicle. (19)

Peacock's co-workers went to Peacock's residence, because he failed to report to work, and upon their arrival, the co-workers discovered a gruesome and bloody crime scene. (20) A law enforcement investigation resulted in McKenzie being subsequently identified in a photo lineup by the victim's neighbor. (21) Further, "[d]eputies observed a gold sport utility vehicle in the driveway and determined that it was registered to Norman Blake McKenzie." (22) McKenzie was arrested after leading law enforcement officers "on a chase Thursday afternoon through four counties leaving a trail of stolen and carjacked vehicles." (23) As part of the several-county crime spree, "McKenzie forced Karen Coffey, (52), from her southwest Gainesville home on Sept. (28) and then drove her around Alachua County for about three hours before leaving her in woods in Putnam County." (24) Coffey was an elementary school teacher who was home alone when McKenzie entered her residence with a gun. (25) After McKenzie's apprehension, he provided a confession and voluntarily turned over Randy Peacock's wallet to law enforcement officers, stating, "You're probably going to need this." (26) Additionally, "McKenzie agreed to speak with [the county sheriffs office] deputies on two separate occasions during which he confessed to the murders of Peacock and Johnston." (27)

Subsequent to McKenzie's arrest, a grand jury indicted him "on two counts of first-degree murder for the homicides of Randy Wayne Peacock and Charles Frank Johnston." (28) As McKenzie's criminal case proceeded through the trial court, McKenzie became frustrated with his court-appointed counsel and requested that he be allowed to represent himself in his murder trial. (29) McKenzie's motivation to dismiss his attorney and represent himself was based upon his desire to expedite his criminal trial and sentencing hearing. (30) McKenzie argued to the court "that he did not need the assistance of counsel," (31) and the court conducted a Faretta hearing (32) and determined that McKenzie "was competent to waive counsel and that his waiver was knowing, intelligent, and voluntary." (33) However, the court determined that "standby" counsel should be appointed to be present during the trial proceedings and be prepared to present a legal defense if McKenzie changed his mind and determined that he would prefer to utilize a defense attorney in preparing and presenting his defense. (34)

McKenzie made an opening statement to the jury, where he admitted to his premeditated intention to rob Johnston and Peacock and that he subsequently killed them. (35) Prosecutors presented an evidentiary case against McKenzie; however, McKenzie chose not to present a defense case. (36) "McKenzie stated that he would not offer any witness testimony and further declined to testify on his own behalf." (37) At the conclusion of the trial, McKenzie gave a four minute closing argument, which included the admission that "[t]here is no doubt that a heinous crime has occurred. I'm the one that is responsible for it." (38) A twelve member jury deliberated as to McKenzie's guilt for an hour and a half, before returning a guilty verdict. (39)

Upon hearing the jury's verdict, McKenzie requested the assistance of a defense attorney for the sentencing phase of the trial and the court appointed counsel. (40) However, one day later, McKenzie requested to have his defense attorney dismissed so that McKenzie could represent himself (41) in the Spencer hearing, (42) which would determine whether he would be sentenced to death. (43) During the Spencer hearing, regarding whether McKenzie should be sentenced to death, often referred to as the penalty phase, McKenzie revealed that he had "most recently finished a fifteen-year prison sentence for a strongarm robbery," which resulted in the victim's quadriplegic paralysis and McKenzie asserted that he had "spent 21 of his 43 years in prison." (44) Subsequently, the same jury deliberated for a little over one hour and determined that McKenzie should be sentenced to death. (45) The trial court determined "that it could not afford the jury's advisory recommendation [of death] great weight in light of McKenzie's minimal presentation of mitigation during the penalty phase." (46) However, the court conducted an independent evaluation of the evidence presented during the trial and sentencing hearings, "concluded that the aggravating circumstances established far outweighed the mitigating circumstances," and sentenced McKenzie to death for the murders of Peacock and Johnston. (47)

McKenzie "appeal[ed] his convictions for first-degree murder and his sentences of death." (48) The Florida Supreme Court found that the Florida Constitution provided the court with jurisdiction to address this death penalty case. (49) The Florida Constitution provides that a limited...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP