Shots, Shoes, and Self-representation: Indiana v. Edwards and the New Limitation on the Sixth Amendment Right of Self-representation - Jaime Kristine Richards

Publication year2009


Shots, Shoes, and Self-Representation: Indiana v. Edwards and the New Limitation on the Sixth Amendment Right of Self-Representation

I. Introduction

In Indiana v. Edwards,1 the United States Supreme Court held that a state2 can refuse to allow a criminal defendant to represent himself and require that the defendant be represented by counsel at trial when the trial judge, after making a "realistic account of the particular defendant's mental capacities," determines that a defendant, although competent to stand trial, lacks the mental capabilities to conduct his own defense.3 In so holding, the Court's 7-2 decision4 has established a potentially troublesome limitation on the right to self-representation first recognized in Faretta v. California.5 The majority announced a vague standard, and trial courts confronted by mentally ill (but competent) defendants who wish to act as their own counsel will have to guess as to the contours of that standard, with no guarantee that their standard will be upheld under the Sixth6 and Fourteenth7 Amendments of the United States Constitution.

II. Factual Background: Of Shots and Shoes

On July 12, 1999, Ahmad Edwards had an altercation with a loss prevention officer after stealing a pair of shoes from the Parisian's shoe department in Indianapolis. Edwards fired three shots, one of which grazed the officer's back and embedded itselfin a bystander's lower right leg. A Federal Bureau of Investigations special agent who happened upon the scene pursued and captured Edwards.8

Edwards was charged with attempted murder, battery with a deadly weapon, criminal recklessness, and theft. Edwards's court-appointed attorney requested that his client undergo a psychiatric evaluation to determine his competency to stand trial. After reviewing evidence from a psychiatrist and a neuropsychologist, the trial court found Edwards incompetent to stand trial and committed him to Logansport State Hospital for treatment.9

Eventually, the Logansport staff psychologist concluded Edwards was competent.10 A second competency hearing was held in March 2002, and despite his continued problems with mental illness, Edwards was found competent. Edwards's counsel pressed for another evaluation. In April 2003 the trial court held a third competency hearing in which Edwards was found incompetent because his schizophrenia limited his ability to work with his attorney in developing his defense. As a result, Edwards was sent back to Logansport. In July 2004 Edwards was found competent to stand trial.11

Edwards moved to represent himself at trial and requested a continuance to prepare his defense. The trial court denied the motion, and court-appointed counsel represented Edwards in the June 2005 trial, which resulted in guilty verdicts on the criminal recklessness and theft charges.12 The jury did not come to a verdict on the charges of attempted murder and battery, so the State decided to retry the charges in December 2005. Edwards again moved to represent himself at the second trial, and his court-appointed counsel moved to withdraw representation. The motions initially were granted, but the court ultimately reappointed counsel for Edwards.13

Before the second trial, Edwards again renewed his motion to proceed pro se. The judge denied the request, finding that although Edwards may have been competent to stand trial, he lacked the mental capacity to defend himself.14 While represented by counsel,15 the jury convicted Edwards of the counts of attempted murder and battery with a deadly weapon. He was sentenced to thirty years imprisonment.16

Edwards appealed his convictions at the second trial to the Indiana Court ofAppeals. In relevant part, Edwards alleged that the trial court erred in denying his request to proceed pro se at his second trial and violated his Sixth Amendment17 right to self-representation. The court of appeals agreed, vacating the judgment of the trial court and ordering that a new trial be held on the two charges. The Indiana Supreme Court accepted the State's petition to review the case and affirmed the court of appeals holding that precedent required that Edwards be allowed to represent himself.18

In response, the State petitioned the United States Supreme Court for certiorari, and certiorari was granted in part to review the matter of Edwards's competency.19 The Supreme Court held that a defendant may be denied his right to self-representation when the trial judge finds that he lacks the mental capacity to conduct his defense.20

III. Legal Background: Of Self-Representation

Two lines of cases govern the right of self-representation and the mental competence standard. Both lines merged in the limited holding in Godinez v. Moran.21

A. The Right to Self-Representation

The first line of cases governs the right to self-representation. Traditionally, self-representation has been protected as a defendant's personal right grounded in early English and American common law and the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution.22 According to English jurisprudence, the Star Chamber was the only court to require representation by counsel in a criminal case.23 Apart from this tribunal, the English common law reflected a right to self-representation as the general practice.24

This right to self-representation was brought to America and jealously guarded by early colonists because of the distrust oflawyers in England formed during times of political and religious discontent.25 This distrust persisted during the American Revolution and through the inception of the United States Constitution.26 The value of knowledgeable counsel was later resurrected in practice, but early American defendants were never forced to accept counsel.27 Regardless, the Judiciary Act of 178928 acknowledged the right to self-representa-tion.29 The statutory right to self-representation is currently recognized under Title 28 of the United States Code.30

A criminal defendant's right to counsel in proceedings against him became rooted in the text of the Sixth Amendment, which states that

"[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right ... to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence."31 At first, this right applied only to federal cases, but the United States Supreme Court in Gideon v. Wainwright32 incorporated through the Fourteenth Amendment33 the right to counsel to the states as "fundamental and essential to fair [criminal] trials."34

The right to self-representation, however, was not protected under the Constitution until Faretta v. California35 in 1975. In Faretta the Court held that the right to self-representation at a criminal trial could not be denied when the defendant "knowingly and intelligently" elects to proceed without the benefit of counsel.36 Initially, Faretta was given permission to represent himself. However, after questioning him about state procedural law, the trial judge determined Faretta could not have knowingly and intelligently waived his right to counsel and further stated that self-representation was not constitutionally protected. Represented by counsel, Faretta was convicted.37

Quoting Adams v. United States,38 the Supreme Court in Faretta stated "protections for the accused should not be turned into fetters. . . . [T]o deny [the defendant] in the exercise of his free choice the right to dispense with some of these safeguards . . . is to imprison a man in his privileges and call it the Constitution."39 The Court reasoned that although counsel helps most criminal defendants, the defendant—not the lawyer—suffers the consequences of conviction.40 Because Faretta had shown that he was "literate, competent, and understanding," the court determined that he voluntarily waived his right to counsel.41 However, the Court limited its holding, stating that Faretta's actual, technical legal knowledge was irrelevant to his decision to waive counsel.42 The dissent expressed displeasure with the majority's holding, finding that "[t]he system of criminal justice should not be available as an instru- ment of self-destruction" by allowing a prosecutor to obtain a simple conviction based on a defendant's presentation of the evidence and lack of legal training.43

The right to self-representation, however, has never been absolute, and federal courts have continued to limit the right in certain instances. First, the trial court can deny the right of self-representation to unruly defendants.44 A defendant may be removed from the courtroom when he continues to "deliberately [engage] in . . . obstructionist misconduct," although the right may be reinstated when the defendant decides to respect the dignity of the court.45 Second, the trial court can require stand-by counsel.46 However, if stand-by counsel "substantially interfere[s]" with the defendant's major strategy decisions or does not allow the defendant to address the court when in the jury's presence, the Sixth Amendment right to self-representation has been violated because the jury may perceive that the defendant is not in control of his case.47 This allows the defendant to seek advice from an experienced attorney on trial tactics and procedure, but the defendant is not free to summon the attorney on a whim to act on his behalf whenever he deems appropriate.48 Third, a defendant who represents himself may not challenge his convictions on appeal based on his ineffective representation because the right to self-representation is not the right to abuse court dignity, procedure, and law.49 Finally, a criminal defendant does not have a right to self-representation on appeal.50 In Martinez v. Court of Appeal of California, Fourth Appellate District,51 the Supreme Court held that there was neither support in the structure of the Sixth Amendment nor a historical basis for alleging a right to represent oneself on appeal.52 Because there is no presumption of innocence in a criminal appeal, the Court reasoned the state's interest in...

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