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Name: People v. Miranda
Case #: B256806
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 8
Opinion Date: 05/13/2015

Defendant’s waiver of right to counsel was voluntary, despite his later claims of mental health problems, because the record did not reflect that he was unable to represent himself without the help of counsel. Miranda was charged with making criminal threats and resisting an officer. When his public defender informed the court she needed additional time to prepare, Miranda asked to represent himself. The court granted his request, although standby counsel was present during the trial. He was convicted. On appeal, he claimed the trial court erred in allowing the self-representation and by not reconsidering that decision after witnesses testified regarding his mental health problems. Held: Affirmed. The Sixth Amendment gives criminal defendants the right to self-representation. A knowing and intelligent waiver of the right to counsel is required before a defendant is allowed to represent himself. On appeal the test is not whether specific warnings were given, but whether the record reflects that the defendant understood the risks and disadvantages of self-representation. Here, the trial court did not know of Miranda’s mental health problems when it granted the request; it relied primarily on the signed waiver of counsel form and engaged in limited questioning before granting his request. While it is preferable to question a defendant about his responses to the waiver form, the failure to do so does not necessarily invalidate the waiver. Miranda’s responses on the form and to the court were consistent with a voluntary and intelligent waiver and Miranda did not manifest a mental illness at the time of the waiver.

The trial court did not err by failing to make further inquiry regarding Miranda’s ability to represent himself during the trial. At trial there was testimony regarding Miranda’s mental health problems. However, “the federal constitution is not violated when a trial court permits a mentally ill defendant to represent himself at trial, even if he lacks the mental capacity to conduct the trial proceedings himself, if he is competent to stand trial and his waiver of counsel is voluntary, knowing and intelligent.” Although trial courts have discretion to deny self-representation if a defendant suffers from a severe mental illness to the point that he cannot carry out the basic tasks needed to present the defense without the help of counsel, it is unsettled whether a trial court may revoke a defendant’s pro per status if the court becomes aware of a defendant’s serious mental disability. Even assuming a defendant has a “right” to have the court revoke his pro per status in these circumstances, there was no error in this case. The record showed that Miranda performed the basic tasks of representing himself without the assistance of counsel.