COA: Unruly defendant did not have to be explicitly told he could attend trial if he behaved

A so-called sovereign citizen who was removed from his own trial because of his disruptive behavior, then tried to get his conviction overturned by arguing he was not told he could remain in the courtroom if he behaved, did not get any sympathy from the Court of Appeals of Indiana, which instead commended the trial court for its patience in handling such a difficult defendant.

Latuwan Partee asked to represent himself two days before his trial on drug charges was scheduled to begin. When the Marion Superior Court, suspecting Partee was just trying to delay the hearing, refused, he began a “tirade of semi-coherent claims of not being subject to the trial court’s jurisdiction.”

Partee was then removed from the courtroom, but when he was brought back in he continued to rant, which caused some of his relatives to become disruptive, as well.

The trial court then ordered a competency evaluation. Although he did not fully cooperate, a psychologist and psychiatrist found him competent to stand trial.

Partee filed several notices with the court and, in court, “spoke over the judge and made meritless arguments.” Finally, he was removed and the trial was held in his absence. The defense counsel objected “for the record” but stated she understood the court could not continue with Partee present.

Subsequently, a jury convicted Partee of dealing in cocaine, a Level 2 felony, and possession of marijuana, a Class B misdemeanor, along with being a habitual offender. He was sentenced to an aggregate of 27½ years, with five years suspended and two years of reporting probation.

On appeal, Partee asserted the trial court erred by failing to inform him that he could return to the courtroom if he promised to conduct himself in an appropriate manner. Pointing to Illinois v. Allen, 397 U.S. 227, 228, 90 S. Ct. 1057 (1970), he argued a defendant must be advised he has the right to confront the witnesses against him and must be given the opportunity to return to the courtroom if he promises to behave.

However, the appellate panel held that a careful reading of Allen shows the court did not “explicitly require” the defendant to be advised he can return if he settles down. Instead, the precedent provides that a trial court can remove an unruly defendant “until he promises to conduct himself properly.”

The panel noted that despite multiple opportunities, Partee did not curtail his disruptive conduct.

“Here, Partee never indicated that he was willing to conform his behavior to that required in a judicial proceeding,” Judge Elizabeth Tavitas wrote for the court in Latuwan Anthony Partee v. State of Indiana, 21A-CR-1529. “To the contrary, the trial court repeatedly brought Partee back into the court and attempted to warn him that he could be excluded from trial.

“Nor did the trial court immediately expel Partee from the courtroom due to his behavior,” Tavitas continued. “Instead, the trial court attempted less-drastic measures: first warning Partee, then holding him in contempt, then placing him in administrative segregation. Even then, the trial court twice attempted to bring Partee back into the courtroom for the trial, only to have Partee continue to cause a disturbance.”

However, the Court of Appeals noted, and the state conceded, that the trial court’s sentencing order erroneously referred to Count 1 as originally charged and not as amended. Thus, the COA remanded with instructions for the scrivener’s error to be corrected.

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