"Request made 'unknowingly'; defendant lacked ability to adequately mount a defense" - says Judge
On October 9, 2012, the Superior Court Judge in Maricopa County denied Michael Lee Crane's request to represent himself at trial. Crane is accused three violent robberies and homicides in the Phoenix, AZ.
The defendant claimed the reason he wanted to represent himself was because no one knew his case better than he did. But the reason for the Judge's denial had little to do with knowledge of the case.
But rather, Crane had persistently been disruptive; refused follow or recognize governing authority and law; refused to answer questions; refused to follow substantiated law; refused to comply with the Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure and Code; and deliberate engaged in serious and obstructionist misconduct
The Judge explained that Crane needed to be able to understand, and follow these rules and follow the Arizona and US constitution. The Judge explained that by not knowing and following these laws and procedures, the defendant did not realize the limits he would place on his defense. But more importantly, his request was denied on the basis that the request for self-representation was not "knowingly" made.
Analysis of Ruling
The Sixth Amendment of the constitution affords a person the right to counsel or the right to defend themselves. And while it is unwise, the court must respect a person's right to refuse attorney representation, even if it to the detriment of the person's defense. For this reason, the Judge did take the defendant's request under advisement. However, the decision is still ultimately at the judge's discretion.
In this Ruling the Judge recognized the right of a person to defend themselves and refuse counsel. However, he explained that this right has limits. The court cited numerous important rulings to refuse to the defendant his request for self-representation:
• A defendant who is persistently disruptive of orderly procedures may lose their right to self-representation U.S. v. Williams 2011; State v Brooks 1989; Smith v State 1998; Wilson v. state 2004; Coleman v. State, 1980;
• Repeatedly arguing with the court on issues that were already ruled on, may be cause for forfeiture of the right to self-representation State v. Hemenway, 2004;
• Self-representation must be balanced against the government's right to a fair trial which requires it to be conducted in a judicious and orderly forum State v. Henry, 1997;
• A trial court has broad discretion in managing the conduct of a trial, and has a duty to properly exercise that discretion State v. Cornell, 1994;
• Even if found competent to waive counsel, and stand trial, the court still has discretion to deny self-representation requests if it believes that the defendant's request was not made knowingly.
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