The Indiana Court of Appeals has reversed the finding that a man charged with murder is no longer indigent and that his difficult behavior caused him to waive or forfeit his right to appointed counsel. The appellate court concluded that the judge considered the defendant’s conduct, not his ability to pay, when finding him no longer indigent.
Stephen Gilmore was charged with murder in 2005. His first trial was declared a mistrial and he was able to post a cash bond. Gilmore received two court-appointed attorneys at that trial and expressed displeasure at the time with his attorneys, among other things.
When he was up for retrial in 2006, the two original attorneys filed a motion to withdraw representation, citing a major breakdown in the attorney-client relationship. Several other court-appointed attorneys, including one from another county, eventually filed motions to withdraw their appointments, citing major disagreements in trial strategy and breakdowns in communication. Gilmore continually requested a new court-appointed attorney after the previous ones had withdrawn.
In January 2009, the trial court decided to review Gilmore’s indigency status and found no changes, but in September 2010, the trial court issued an order finding he was no longer indigent. The judge also said he waived his right to counsel by his “obstreperous conduct.” The judge noted the cases raise the question of whether there are limits on one’s right to indigent counsel.
At the September 2010 hearing, the judge noted that Gilmore’s income from Social Security was in excess of Federal Poverty Guidelines, his home’s property was assessed at $54,000, and the attorney fees for his first trial were $21,000. But the judge went on to say that a court must also consider a defendant’s conduct and behavior when re-evaluating indigency.
The appellate court was troubled by this statement because “it indicates that the trial court based its indigency determination in whole or in part on its assessment of Gilmore’s conduct, not his financial condition. We have found no such requirement with regard to an indigency status determination,” wrote Judge James Kirsch in Stephen L. Gilmore v. State of Indiana, No. 40A01-1011-CR-553.
Having found that Gilmore’s assets and income were insufficient for him to afford to pay for his own attorney, the court can’t then reverse its decision without finding a change in circumstances since its earlier decision or determining the previous decision was an error, wrote the judge.
Regarding his right to court-appointed counsel, the COA agreed with the trial court that although a defendant has a right to an attorney, if indigent, he doesn’t have the right to abuse it. Gilmore’s conduct appears to be along the line of a waiver by conduct or forfeiture with knowledge. Because of this, he’s entitled to a hearing during which he should be warned that if his difficult behavior persists, the trial court will find he has chosen self-representation by his own conduct.
“While not condoning Gilmore’s apparent obstreperous conduct, because those warnings were not given to Gilmore, we conclude that the trial court erred by finding that Gilmore had waived his right to counsel,” he wrote.