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