Supreme Court Takes Up Self-Representation

The Supreme Court will hear an important case on self-representation this coming week in the case of Ahmad Edwards. The case out of Indianapolis could well re-define the limits of self-representation in cases where a defendant is viewed as mentally unstable.

The right to self-representation is deeply embedded in the Constitution. Indeed, one of the first things that the First Congress did was to codify the absolute right of self-representation as Section 35 of the Judiciary Act of 1789, 1 Stat. 73, 92 — a law signed by George Washington himself.

The Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of the right of counsel has long been defined as guaranteeing the right to self-representation. The Court has held that the Sixth Amendment, in addition to guaranteeing the right to retained or appointed counsel, also guarantees a defendant the right to represent himself. In 1975, the Court held that this right exists even when the defendant’s self-representation will likely cause harm to his own case. Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806 (1975).

In this case, Edwards appealed his conviction of attempted murder and other charges on the basis that he was denied the right to represent himself. The Indiana Supreme Court agreed that his rights were violated and reversed his conviction.

The courts have routinely had to deal with unhinged individuals who insisted on arguing their own cases. The most notable was was Colin Ferguson who was convicted in 1995 of killing six passengers on the Long Island Railroad. Ferguson turned the court proceedings into bizarre diatribes and delusions. Yet, recently a defendant viewed as unhinged actually won his own case. Click here

Federal courts in cases like Zacarias Moussaoui have been more aggressive in blocking such efforts, click here.

Edwards certainly appears unstable. In 1999 hestole a pair of wingtip shoes in downtown Indianapolis. When confronted by an unarmed store security guard, Edwards pulled out a 40-caliber handgun and fired — grazing the leg of the security officer and then hitting the leg of a bystander.

Edwards was repeatedly denied self-representation due to his instability. The question now is whether the Roberts court will use this record to rollback on the right of self-representation.

For the full story, click here

4 thoughts on “Supreme Court Takes Up Self-Representation”

  1. Well I am still working away to get back my own Access to Courts Rights.

    One statistic I read is that 80% of criminal defendants get public defenders. Some are good but many are overworked. The state of Florida budgets only $750 for a felony defense–the cost of one week in jail.
    If a criminal defendant doesn’t like their lawyer usually their only choice is self-representation and a limited small study shows they did better.According to Erica J. Hashimoto, an assistant professor at the Georgia School of Law,:
    “After conducting an empirical study of pro se felony defendants, I conclude that these defendants are not necessarily either ill-served by the decision to represent themselves or mentally ill….In state court, pro se defendants charged with felonies fared as well as, and arguably significantly better than, their represented counterparts…of the 234 pro se defendants for whom an outcome was provided, just under 50 percent of them were convicted on any charge….for represented state court defendants, by contrast, a total of 75 percent were convicted of some charge…. Only 26 percent of the pro se defendants ended up with felony convictions, while 63 percent of their represented counterparts were convicted of felonies…in federal court…the acquittal rate for pro se defendants is virtually identical to the acquittal rate for represented defendants.”
    “Defending the Right to Self-Representation: An Empirical Look at the Pro Se Felony Defendant by Erica J. Hashimoto, University of Georgia School of Law 2006

    I also found that Robert W. Kearns was self-represented when he won $10 million from Ford Motor in 1990 over the intermittent windshield patent

    Here is S.C. dicta on the attorney client relationship:

    “rejected is respondents’ suggestion that the attorney-client relationship be treated as a sort of business partnership or joint venture for tax purposes. In fact, that relationship is a quintessential principal-agent relationship, for the client retains ultimate dominion and control over the underlying claim. The attorney can make tactical decisions without consulting the client, but the client still must determine whether to settle or proceed to judgment and make, as well, other critical decisions. Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. Banks, 125 S.Ct. 826, 543 U.S. 426, 160 L.Ed.2d 859 (U.S. 01/24/2005)

    and here is S.C. dicta on the right of self-representation:

    “there is no question that a party may represent his or her own interests in federal court without the aid of counsel. See 28 U. S. C. §1654 (“In all courts of the United States the parties may plead and conduct their own cases personally or by counsel . . .”) WINKELMAN V. PARMA CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT, 127 S. Ct. 1994 (2007)

    Here is the fundamental right:

    “The right of a citizen of one state… to institute and maintain actions of any kind in the courts of the state… are, strictly speaking, privileges and immunities.” Justice Thomas and the Chief Justice William Rehnquist dissenting opinion in Saenz v. Roe, 526 U.S. 489, 119 S.Ct. 1518, 143 L.Ed.2d 689 (U.S. 05/17/1999)

    to be limited only by compelling state interest:

    The Fourteenth Amendment “forbids the government to infringe . . . `fundamental’ liberty interests at all, no matter what process is provided, unless the infringement is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest.” Washington v. Glucksberg, No. 96-110 (U.S. 06/26/1997) Syllabus by the Court Chief Justice Reinquist

  2. Yep he did it,Susan maybe you dont know the case or people involved but I do.In this case the Harold Stewart did indeed beat the defendent to death with a baseball bat.Maybe if he hadnt really done it he would of been foung guilty.Get it together P.G. COUNTY.

  3. Just going downtown in Indianapolis is presumptively proof of mental instability…

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