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Name: People v. Gardner
Case #: A135615
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 4
Opinion Date: 11/21/2014

Trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying request for self-representation where defendant suffered from an expressive language disorder that would prevent him from coherently communicating with the court or a jury. Gardner was convicted of first degree murder, torture, and other offenses. Prior to trial Gardner requested self-representation; his attorney expressed a doubt regarding his competence to stand trial. Criminal proceedings were suspended and a doctor was appointed to evaluate Gardner. The doctor reported that Gardner was competent to stand trial and to waive his right to counsel. However, she opined with “reasonable medical certainty” that Gardner was not competent to represent himself based on his expressive language disorder, which rendered him unable to communicate coherently enough to make presentations in court. Based on the report, the court found Gardner competent to stand trial but not competent to represent himself. He appealed. Held: Affirmed. A trial court must grant a timely, knowing Faretta request, unless the defendant lacks the mental capacity to conduct his own defense. The Constitution permits States to insist upon representation by counsel for defendants competent enough to stand trial, but who suffer from severe mental illness to the point they are not competent to conduct the trial themselves. (Indiana v. Edwards (2008) 554 U.S. 164.) To allow such a defendant to represent himself would undermine, rather than further, the basic Constitutional objective of providing a fair trial. Here, the record supported the trial court’s denial of the Faretta motion. The trial court’s comments indicated that it believed the defendant, based on his mental illness, was not capable of carrying out the basics tasks required to present a defense. (See People v. Johnson (2012) 53 Cal.4th 519, 530.)