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Name: People v. Butler
Case #: S068230
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 12/11/2009

A pro per defendant’s misconduct in jail which results in imposition of security measures that restrict his opportunity to prepare for trial, alone, is not a basis to revoke his pro per status. While pending trial on two counts of murder, appellant became involved in the stabbing death of a fellow inmate. He was convicted of the two murder counts and sentenced to death. At the commencement of trial on the inmate’s death, appellant filed a motion to represent himself which the court granted. (Faretta v. California (1975) 422 U.S. 806 [Faretta].) Counsel in the initial case agreed to act as advisory counsel and appellant was provided with a legal runner. Because of his serious misconduct, however, appellant was denied library privileges and his telephone access was restricted. Thereafter, expressing concern about the limitations imposed on appellant’s ability to prepare for trial, the court terminated appellant’s pro per status, and returned advisory counsel to the case. Appellant was subsequently convicted of murder, with the jury returning a verdict of death. The Supreme Court reversed. The Sixth Amendment right of self-representation is not absolute and the trial court may deny or terminate the pro per status if defendant deliberately engages in serious and obstructionist misconduct; he fails to make a timely request to represent himself; he abandons his Faretta request or acquiesces in representation of counsel; his request is equivocal; he suffers from mental illness to an extent that he is not competent to conduct trial proceedings himself. Here, however, none of these factors were the basis for the court’s termination of pro per status. The court based its decision only on the limitations imposed on appellant’s ability to prepare for trial. But conditions of confinement are not a legal impediment to the exercise of Faretta rights and inmates have the right to represent themselves even when their ability to prepare a defense is restricted. Because erroneous denial of a Faretta motion is reversible per se, the conviction and sentence in this case were reversed. Justice Chin wrote a strong dissenting opinion in which Justice Baxter concurred.