- June 9, 2017
- by Ben Adams
The Sonoma County criminal defense law firm of Adams Fietz has reviewed the case of People v. Ruffin, filed 6/6/17. In a rare reversal, the Court of Appeals considered the advisements necessary for self representation.
A criminal defendant has a right, under the Sixth Amendment to the federal Constitution, to conduct his own defense, provided that he knowingly and intelligently waives his Sixth Amendment right to the assistance of counsel. A defendant seeking to represent himself “should be made aware of the dangers and disadvantages of self-representation, so that the record will establish that ‘he knows what he is doing and his choice is made with eyes open.’ No particular form of words is required in admonishing a defendant who seeks to waive counsel and elect self-representation.” Rather, “the test is whether the record as a whole demonstrates that the defendant understood the disadvantages of self-representation, including the risks and complexities of the particular case.” Thus, ‘[a]s long as the record as a whole shows that the defendant understood the dangers of self-representation, no particular form of warning is required.’
Although no specific inquiry is required, prior California decisions have discussed the types of warnings that are sufficient. Those warnings “‘include the defendant’s inability to rely upon the trial court to give personal instruction on courtroom procedure or to provide the assistance that otherwise would have been rendered by counsel. . . .’ The defendant ‘should at least be advised that: self-representation is almost always unwise and that the defense he conducts might be to his detriment; he will have to follow the same rules that govern attorneys; the prosecution will be represented by experienced, professional counsel who will have a significant advantage over him in terms of skill, training, education, experience, and ability; the court may terminate his right to represent himself if he engages in disruptive conduct; and he will lose the right to appeal his case on the grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel. In addition, he should also be told he will receive no help or special treatment from the court and that he does not have a right to standby, advisory, or cocounsel. While this list of issues is not exhaustive, it demonstrates that there are a number of matters the court must ask about and consider before ruling on a defendant’s request to represent himself.’
In addition, we note that the court should satisfy itself that the defendant understands the nature of the charges against him, though there is a split of authority in California as to whether the court must also specifically advise the defendant of the maximum penal consequences of conviction. Even if such an advisement is not mandatory, its total absence is certainly a factor to consider in determining whether the defendant’s waiver was knowingly made, and in this case we rely on the entire record to conclude that the Faretta waiver was invalid.
Finally, “[t]he high court has instructed that courts must draw every inference against supposing that the defendant wishes to waive the right to counsel. It follows, as several courts have concluded, that in order to protect the fundamental constitutional right to counsel, one of the trial court’s tasks when confronted with a motion for self-representation is to determine whether the defendant truly desires to represent himself or herself. The court faced with a motion for self-representation should evaluate not only whether the defendant has stated the motion clearly, but also the defendant’s conduct and other words. Because the court should draw every reasonable inference against waiver of the right to counsel, the defendant’s conduct or words reflecting ambivalence about self-representation may support the court’s decision to deny the defendant’s motion. A motion for self-representation made in passing anger or frustration, an ambivalent motion, or one made for the purpose of delay or to frustrate the orderly administration of justice may be denied.”
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