State submits SCOTUS brief in pro se case

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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Trial courts should be able to deny criminal defendants the right to represent themselves when that person can't communicate coherently with the court or jury, the Indiana Attorney General's Office wants the nation's highest court to decide.

The state submitted a brief this week to the Supreme Court of the United States, which will hear arguments March 26 in the Hoosier-based pro se case of Indiana v. Ahmad Edwards, No. 07-208. You can view the 74-page brief online here.

Dating to July 1999, the case is now before the nation's high court following an Indiana Supreme Court ruling in May 2007. Mall surveillance caught Edwards stealing shoes from an Indianapolis store July 12, 1999. While running away outside, he shot at police.

Edwards was charged with attempted murder and battery with a deadly weapon that summer, but his jury trial was delayed during the next five years as he was found to be competent and incompetent to stand trial at different times. He was ultimately ruled competent and a jury trial began in June 2005, but the jury couldn't reach a decision and a mistrial was declared.

Edwards wanted to proceed pro se, but the trial court determined he might have been competent for trial but was incapable of representing himself. After a second trial in December 2005, he was convicted of attempted murder and battery with a deadly weapon, and was sentenced to a concurrent 30-year sentence. Edwards appealed on several issues, including that he was denied his right to represent himself. The state's two highest appellate courts reversed that and ordered a new trial.

Last May, Indiana's justices relied on precedent from the U.S. Supreme Court that it deemed binding, but also ripe for a possible review by the nation's highest court. Decisions cited include landmark cases Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806 (1975) which held courts could not force a lawyer upon a defendant wanting his or her own self-representation; and Godinez v. Moran, 509 U.S. 389 (1993), that held the standard of competence to waive the right to counsel is the same standard of competence to stand trial.

Now, the state argues that the Sixth Amendment allows state trial courts to impose a higher standard of competency for self-representation than for standing trial because courts are permitted to balance the interests of any defendant. Faretta doesn't prohibit a court from refusing to allow a defendant from proceeding pro se if he or she can't effectively communicate with the court or jury, the state contends.

"For a defendant who cannot communicate, in other words, waiving trial counsel is tantamount to waiving a fair trial in a way that it is for a defendant who can communicate, but who may otherwise do a poor job of representing himself," the brief states, also urging the court to consider overruling its Faretta decision if it conflicts with what the state is proposing.

The state argues that dissenting justices in the 1975 ruling noted, "a right to self-representation is without solid textual, structural, or historical foundation."

Edwards' attorneys have until March 5 to submit their brief.

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  1. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  2. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  3. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  4. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  5. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.