Table 1

Case-Based Publications Illustrating Questions Related to Pro Se Competence

Author(s)/YearCase ReferencedFacts of CaseRuling/Relevant Points
Saleh & Pinals (2010)10United States v. deShazar, 554 F.3d 1281(10th Cir. 2009)Def indicted on stalking, carrying firearm charges. He insisted on proceeding pro se despite ct warning; ct granted request, finding he knowingly and voluntarily waived right to counsel. Convicted on both counts, he appealed, arguing district court erred in finding him CST, CWRC, CSR.Tenth Circuit affirmed conviction, reiterated Godinez2: defendant can conduct own defense if CST; interpreted Edwards as permitting but not requiring courts to deny defendant right to represent self, especially because in this case was found CST and CWRC.
Lee & Pinals (2011)11State v. Dahl, 776 N.W.2d 37 (N.D. 2009)Def charged with reckless endangerment (fired shotgun at victim’s home); requested self-rep because atty didn’t subpoena proposed witnesses; district ct warned him about risks of self-rep, granted request despite schizophrenia dx and asking bizarre questions to jurors. At trial, found guilty; he appealed, claiming he was not CWRC, which ct should have detected by his conduct.North Dakota Supreme Ct affirmed convictions; def had asked odd questions during jury selection, but no evidence at trial of mental illness symptoms impairing CSR. Although self-rep may have been unwise, he showed trial strategy, and waiver of right to counsel was knowing, intelligent, voluntary.
Beaman and Noffsinger (2013)12United States v. Turner, 644 F.3d 713 (Eighth Cir. 2011)Def charged with felony poss of firearm; he requested self-rep, which ct granted; at trial, he cross-examined witnesses, gave religious speech for closing argument. Found guilty; he argued ct failed to question him about CSR, require higher level for CSR than CST, and hold competency hearing in response to bizarre behavior.Eighth Circuit rejected all claims, holding district ct had adequately warned def of dangers of self-rep, that his waiver of counsel was knowing and voluntary, and that no parties (including def) had at any point during trial raised concern about his CSR.
Martin and Weisman (2013)13State v. Lane, 707 S.E.2d 210 (N.C. 2011)Def confessed to murdering five-year-old female neighbor; chose to self-represent during legal process. Found guilty of first-degree murder, multiple sex offenses; jury sentenced to death; he appealed; case bypassed appellate ct, went directly to North Carolina Sup Ct.North Carolina Sup Ct held def could waive right to counsel if did so knowingly and voluntarily; held Edwards did not apply, because trial ct determined that def had waived right to counsel knowingly and voluntarily.
Boudreaux & Kelly (2014)14United States v. Morris, 489 F. App’x 407 (11th Cir. 2012)Def indicted after making false statement in passport app, was convicted; before sentencing, had psych eval given odd behavior (sent child pornography to ct). Trial ct found incompetent for sentencing, ordered tx; he was restored; he moved to dismiss counsel, with whom he repeatedly refused to cooperate; ct warned him of risks of self-rep, made appointed atty standby counsel. Sentenced to 10 years prison; he argued he was not CSR, that trial ct erred in making him self-rep at sentencing.Eleventh Circuit affirmed def was CWRC and proceed to sentencing; CWRC shown by objections and arguments made to ct, final psych report opined competent to proceed, and by uncooperative conduct he knowingly and voluntarily waived right to counsel. Authors noted that after thorough eval, if a def is opined to be voluntarily uncooperative, this should not be labeled incompetence.
Wiita & Simpson (2017)15United States v. Dubrule, 822 F.3d 866 (Sixth Cir. 2016)Def charged with conspiracy to distribute and delivery of controlled substances; proceeded to trial pro se, was convicted on all counts. He appealed, arguing he should have had competency hearing before trial, that he was given ineffective stand-by counsel, and that expert who opined he was CST and CSR provided testimony not “peer-reviewed.”Sixth Circuit rejected all claims, stating trial ct had spent much time with def who showed working knowledge of relevant law, rational and factual understanding of proceedings, and ability to consult with standby counsel. Authors noted that an unorthodox defense strategy not sufficient to render a def IST.
Saxton and Resnick (2017)16Tatum v. Foster, 847 F.3d 459 (Seventh Cir. 2017)Def charged with homicide; had trial competence eval, was opined CST; def requested self-rep. Ct found def CST, but denied his pro se request, partly because of his achieving only 10th grade education. Was convicted; on appeal, state appellate ct affirmed, Wisc Sup Ct denied review, district ct rejected claims, Seventh Circuit agreed to hear case.Seventh Circuit ultimately reversed judgment of district ct and held that right to represent oneself is constitutional right not to be infringed on based on lack of education, skill, or achievement; rather, CSR must be considered as it relates to mental functioning.
Chandarana & Kelly (2020)17Hooks v. State, 286 So. 3d 163 (Fla. 2019)Def charged with drug possession, probation violation; requested self-rep; trial judge gave him written material and warned him of risks regarding self-rep. At trial, found guilty; def appealed, arguing trial ct did not inquire about his age, legal understanding and experience, or other factors related to knowing and voluntary waiver of right to counsel; state appeals ct rejected claim, but certified question to Florida Sup Ct regarding relevant factors in pro se competence inquiries.Florida Sup Ct held trial ct did not err in granting def’s pro se request despite not inquiring about his age, experience, and understanding of criminal procedure, including ability to prepare a defense and legal knowledge. Ct held a def should be allowed to waive right to counsel following thorough inquiry into def’s comprehension of the request.
  • Note. app, application; atty, attorney; CSR, competent to self-represent; CST, competent to stand trial; ct, court; CWRC, competent to waive right to counsel; def, defendant; dx, diagnosis; eval, evaluation; IST, incompetent to stand trial; poss, possession; psych, psychiatric; self-rep, self-representation; Sup, Supreme; tx, treatment.