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Name: People v. Burgener
Case #: S116882
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 05/07/2009

Reversal of a death sentence required where the trial court offered inadequate advisements concerning self-representation. At his penalty phase retrial following reversal of his death judgment, petitioner requested to represent himself at the resentencing hearing. The court advised him of the dangers and disadvantages of self-representation, but the record concerning Burgener’s understanding of the dangers and disadvantages was “rather thin.” The Supreme Court found that the record was insufficient to establish that Burgener’s waiver of counsel was knowing and intelligent and vacated the death judgment. Burgener would be entitled to relief even if the error were subject to a harmless error review under Chapman. He had not previously represented himself, and had an “erratic” education past the age of 11 or 12. He spent most of his adult life in prison and had adjustment and personality disorders. One cannot say beyond a reasonable doubt that he would have waived the assistance of counsel if the trial court had refrained from encouraging him to represent himself and had instead properly advised him of the risks of self-representation.