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Defendant Seeks to Represent Himself in Court

People v. S

New York Slip Op. 02286

April 3, 2018

There are two issues to address in this case. The defendant argues that he was denied the right to represent himself in court when he asked to do so. He also argues that he was denied his right to a fair trial by not being allowed to submit psychiatric testimony because he failed to serve proper notice on the State (CPL 250.10).

In 2011, the police stopped the defendant for driving a stolen vehicle. During the search, a loaded handgun was found. He commented that it was good that the police had taken the gun from him, otherwise he would have used it on the police officer. The defendant waived his Miranda rights and freely admitted that he had stolen the car he was driving. He was indicted for possession of a weapon in the second degree and aggravated unlicensed operation of a vehicle.

He was later examined by psychiatrists because his competency was in question. He was ultimately deemed competent to stand trial.

One year later prior to trial, the defendant was asked to proceed “pro se” and represent himself in court. There was a verbal exchange, where the defendant wanted to defend himself but have his lawyer on standby, should he need him. The court said that basically, either you have a lawyer, or you don’t, there was no middle ground. Through this exchange, the defendant remained silent.

Later at the trial, the defendant was trying to question the jury and the witnesses. The court said, “you have the right to represent yourself without an attorney, or you can have a lawyer.” The defendant said he has the right to legal assistance when he wants it. He expected the lawyer would be there to act as an aide. The court said that that would involve dual representation.

The defendant tried to then submit a psyche evaluation as evidence, but it was never served upon the court.

The defendant was convicted of criminal possession of a weapon and operation of an unlicensed vehicle. The appellate court affirmed this decision. The court said that the defendant requesting to represent himself was unclear because he never made a clear and intelligent waiver of counsel. The court granted leave to appeal.

The defendant contends that his right to self-representation was violated. He contends that he was clear in his request, even though he wanted stand-by counsel.

Pursuant to both New York and Federal Constitutions, a defendant has the right to represent themselves at trial (Faretta v. California 422 US 806 [1975]. The court discusses that when determining a right to counsel, a defendant can involve the right the defendant themselves provided:

The request is timely;

There was an intelligent waiver of counsel;

The defendant hasn’t engaged in conduct that would prevent the orderly explanation of the issues.

The court discussed what “unequivocally” means in this context. The request made must be clearly communicated to the court. In this case, the defendant did not appear to have a fixed intention to proceed without counsel (People v. Peyton 45 NY2d 300). The court concluded that the application to proceed must reflect a decision to relinquish counsel (Matter of Kathleen K. 17 NY3d 386).

With reference to the psychiatric evidence, the court stated, in a lengthy opinion, that the application of CPL 250.10 is in keeping with the court’s interpretation that that pretrial notice is necessary based on principles of fairness (Segal, 5 NY2d at 65).

The decision of the Appellate Court was affirmed.

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