In the United States, criminal defendants do have the right to defend themselves. However, a United State Supreme Court case called Faretta clarified that a defendant’s waiver of counsel is only valid as long as it is knowingly and intelligently made. Essentially, a defendant needs to be competent enough to understand the ramifications of their actions. While defendants do have the right to represent themselves, it is generally a bad idea. That’s why defendants should always contact a skilled Tampa criminal defense attorney as soon as they are arrested.
Whether a defendant is represented by counsel or representing themselves, they need to be competent in order to stand trial. This is different than an insanity defense. Competency refers to the defendant’s mental state at trial. They need to be competent enough to understand the nature of the proceedings against them and meaningfully assist in their own defense.
In a case heard by the Florida Third District Court of Appeal, the defendant represented himself at trial after dismissing two different attorneys. Before the trial began, the defendant was determined to be incompetent to stand trial. However, after a period of hospitalization without medication, he was deemed competent enough to stand trial. At several points throughout the trial the court did a Faretta inquiry and each time the defendant was found competent to stand trial and represent himself.
After representing himself, the defendant was found guilty of second-degree murder and attempted second degree murder. Though standby counsel was available during the trial, the defendant chose not to take advantage of the assistance. Now, the defendant appeals his convictions on the grounds that the court did not make sufficient Faretta inquiries.
Court of Appeal Holding
The appeals court disagreed with the defendant and upheld his convictions. They explained that the competence inquiry in a Faretta hearing is not whether the defendant is competent to defend themselves, but whether they are competent to waive the right to defend themselves. As part of the Faretta inquiry, the court also has a responsibility to explain to the defendant the importance of being represented by counsel and the advantages that having a skilled attorney can bring.
The appeals court held that the record in this case shows that the court did a sufficient Faretta inquiry at many different points throughout the trial. The court also held that it was not fundamental error to have made certain comments about the defendant’s choice to defend himself. Specifically, the judge reprimanded the defendant after he interrupted and tried to speak out of turn. The judge noted that the defendant would have known when his time to ask questions was if he was represented by an attorney. Though the defendant argued that these comments undermined his ability to get a fair trial, the court disagreed and once again upheld his sentence.
Contact an Experienced Tampa Violent Crimes Defense Attorney Today!
As this case illustrates, it is imperative that defendants are represented by qualified counsel. Many of the issues raised by the defendant would have had a better chance had they been raised at trial initially. The violent crimes defense attorneys at Hanlon Law Firm zealously and knowledgeably defend clients charged with a crime. Contact us online or call our offices at (727) 897-5413 to speak with our skilled attorneys about your case.
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