Under the laws of the United States, defendants have a right to act as their own counsel if they so choose. However, the state still has a responsibility to make sure that the defendant is competent enough to make these choices. In a case heard by the Florida First District Court of Appeal, a defendant who refused to cooperate with his counsel and then represented himself appealed his conviction for sex crimes. If you or a loved one is charged with a sex crime, you should contact a skilled Clearwater sex crime attorney as soon as possible.
Facts of the Case
The defendant in this case was charged with three counts of sexual battery. The prosecutors provided DNA evidence that corroborated the testimony of the victim. He decided to represent himself during most of the proceedings. However, the judge did appoint his public defender to be his standby counsel during the proceedings. He was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. On appeal, he alleged that the trial court’s verdict should be overturned. The defendant argued that the court should have performed a competency hearing to make sure that he was competent to waive his right to counsel. He also argued that the standby counsel was ineffective.
During the trial, the defendant failed to cooperate with some aspects of the hearings. The defendant argued that this should have prompted the state to order a formal competency hearing. The standard for competency in a criminal trial is relatively low. Essentially, the defendant needs to be able to understand that there is an adversarial proceeding going on, and he needs to have the ability to consult with counsel to assist in his own defense.
In this case, both the trial and the appeals courts held that there was no evidence that the defendant was not competent. In fact, they explained that his behavior tended to show that he was competent. For example, during cross examination, he asked the DNA expert questions about whether there was DNA in saliva. The defendant made the point that his DNA could have come from spitting tobacco juice instead of from the crimes he was accused of committing. He also appeared to just be obstinate instead of incompetent because he answered some questions but then refused to answer others. They also noted that he changed into professional clothes before the hearing. The appeals court held that this argument was without merit.
Self-Representation and Ineffective Assistance
The defendant also argued that he should not have been allowed to represent himself and that his standby counsel was ineffective. Once again, the appeals court upheld the trial court’s convictions and found these arguments unpersuasive. For similar reasons as above with competency, the appeals court held that the defendant knowingly availed himself of his right to represent himself.
He further argued that his standby counsel was ineffective. He relied on the fact that when he asked the public defender for his notes, he refused to give him the notes because they were attorney work product. However, the attorney did turn over the evidence he had. The public defender also took over the defense after the State rested and together with the defendant made a strategic decision not to present further evidence aside from the discovery material. As above, the appeals court upheld the conviction because the defendant did not meet his burden of showing a harmful error.
Contact An Experienced Clearwater Sex Crime Defense Attorney
This case illustrates how important it is to have knowledgeable counsel after you are charged with a sex crime like sexual battery. Hanlon Law will fight aggressively to defend you against the charges. Call our offices at (727) 897-5413 or contact us online to speak with us about your case.
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