ILNews

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. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  2. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  3. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  4. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

  5. Can I get this form on line,if not where can I obtain one. I am eligible.

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