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Name: People v. Clemons
Case #: B190535
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 8
Opinion Date: 03/12/2008
Summary

The decision to plead guilty or not guilty, including not guilty by reason of insanity, is solely defendant’s, even in the instance where counsel believes a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity is a bad trial tactic. (Pen. Code, sec. 1018; People v. Gauze (1975) 15 Cal.3d 709; People v. Medina (1990) 51 Cal.3d 870.) Appellant was in custody on a burglary case. While meeting with counsel, at a locked courthouse interview room, the two being separated by a wire mesh, appellant lacerated his arm with a razor blade from a disposable razor provided by the jail. The injury was quite deep and required 18 stitches. In addition to the burglary case, appellant was then charged with being in possession of illegal contraband. During the subsequent history of the razor case, appellant was initially found incompetent to stand trial but was eventually found competent, with the experts opining that appellant feigned his symptoms. Despite appellant’s unequivocal desire to plead not guilty by reason of insanity, his attorney refused to enter the plea, stating for the record that on the basis of his observations he concluded that appellant was not insane. The appellate court reversed, noting that defendant’s right to enter a plea of choice is analogous to the right to exercise the option to testify or not to testify, both rights being something counsel cannot control. (People v. Fernandez (1990) 219 Cal.App.3d 1379.) Disagreeing with respondent’s position, the court found that the error was not harmless in this case since, even if there was no expert testimony as to appellant’s mental state at the time of the self-inflicted injury, the injury itself provided a basis for which the jury could have found appellant not guilty by reason of insanity.