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Court Discusses Right to Self-Representation in a Murder Trial

People v C

2018 NY Slip Op 06849

October 16, 2018

The right to self-representation is an important part of being an American (People v. McIntyre 36 NY2d 10, 14 [1974]. This is a right that is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and New York State law (Fraretta v CA 422 US 806 [1975], NY Constitution Art. 1). This right, however, isn’t absolute and must be made in a timely manner (Mc Intyre 36 NY2d; Martinez v Ct of Appeal 4th Appellate District, 528 US 152, 161-162 [2000].

In this case, the defendant tried to invoke his right to proceed pro se. There is a three-prong approach to determine when this right can be invoked. It must be made in a timely manner, there must have been an intelligent waiver of counsel, and the defendant must not have engaged in conduct which would prevent an orderly disposition of the issues. This appeal deals with the first prong of this test.

In June of 1013, the defendant and victim had an altercation. In the process of this, the defendant stabbed the victim. The defendant was charged with attempted murder in the 2nd degree, assault in the 1st degree and criminal possession of a weapon in the 3d degree.

During the beginning of the proceedings, counsel for the defendant stated that the defendant had requested a new attorney and a new attorney wasn’t assigned he would not attend the trial. The defendant failed to come to court.

The defendant’s lawyer asked to be removed from the case, but the judge denied his request.

After the jury selection was made, the defendant appeared in court and requested that he be able to represent himself in trial. The judge denied his request, stating that the request was made too late. The defendant stated that he wished to tell the jury about his dissatisfaction with defense counsel. The Judge denied this request and had him removed from the courtroom. The judge felt that the defendant’s action was a manipulation.

Several times the People requested addressing the defendant’s absence from the court and his right to represent himself. The judge denied these requests.

The appellate court reversed and remanded this case for a new trial. The court cited McIntyre for the idea that the defendant’s request to represent himself was indeed timely because it occurred prior to the opening statements.

Dissenting Opinion

People v McIntyre created a standard for the defendant to conduct their own defense. The timing was to be after the jury had been selected but not empaneled (36 NY2d at 12). Here the defendant made a brief inquiry, but his request was denied in part because of his behavior. McIntyre discussed the sufficiency of the court’s inquiry to verify that the defendant’s waiver of counsel was done intelligently and voluntarily. In this case, the motion for the defendant to proceed pro se was not denied as being untimely.

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