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Name: People v. Parrott
Case #: A146642
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 4
Opinion Date: 04/04/2017

Although record did not establish that defendant properly invoked his right to self-representation, the fact he was not represented by counsel at sentencing was harmless error given the negotiated disposition. Parrott entered guilty pleas in two cases charging him with being a felon in possession of a firearm (Pen. Code, § 29800, subd. (a)) and enhancements. It was agree he would serve five years in state prison. At the time of sentencing Parrott’s attorney could not be located. The trial court provided Parrott with a copy of the probation report and offered to continue sentencing so he could review it. Parrott replied, “He can be my lawyer at this point. Let’s just go.” The court asked whether Parrott would represent himself. He said, “Yeah. I’m ready. Let’s roll.” He then agreed to waive his attorney’s presence at sentencing. The court imposed the five-year sentence. Parrott appealed the denial of counsel at sentencing. Held: Affirmed. A criminal defendant has a Sixth Amendment right to counsel at all critical stages of a criminal proceeding. A defendant may waive his right to counsel but must do so “knowingly and intelligently” and must be made aware of the dangers and disadvantages of self-representation. A request for self-representation must be unequivocal. Parrott did not clearly waive counsel and did not make an unequivocal request for self-representation. However, “sentencing was simply a process to put on the record a previously negotiated plea disposition supervised and approved by the same judge who presided at sentencing.” Applying the harmless beyond a reasonable doubt test (Chapman v. California (1967) 386 U.S. 18) any deficiency in the court’s admonition was harmless.

Motion to suppress evidence was properly denied where defendant failed to show that he was unlawfully detained. Parrott sought to suppress a gun found in his pocket during a patdown search. He argued he was detained without reasonable suspicion to believe he was engaged in criminal activity. There was no error. A person is detained when police restrain his liberty by means of physical force or a show of authority. The test for determining if police conduct amounts to a detention is whether a reasonable person, under the circumstances, would feel free to leave or to terminate the encounter. However, a consensual encounter between police and an individual is not a detention. Here, police contacted Parrott because he was having car trouble. Although Parrott agreed his encounter with police was initially consensual, he argued a detention occurred when the officers asked him to remove his hands from his pockets and step out of the street and onto the sidewalk. He relied on In re J.G. (2014) 228 Cal.App.4th 402, where the court found an illegal detention occurred when officers had the defendants sit on a curb and informed them they were suspected of being involved in criminal activity. However, Parrott’s case is distinguishable. An officer asked Parrott to step onto the curb for safety reasons and did not ask Parrott about being involved in any criminal activity. The officer’s request that Parrott take his hands out of his pocket was for officer safety reasons, not an indication the officer was suspicious of illegal activity. The requests were not a display of authority and did not amount to a detention at this point.

At the time defendant’s encounter with police became a detention, the officers had a reasonable suspicion he was in violation of the Vehicle Code and was armed. Parrott’s encounter with police became a detention when the officers used physical force to restrain him. However, by that time, they knew Parrott’s license was suspended and they had an objectively reasonable basis for suspecting that Parrott had driven without a valid license. (See Veh. Code, § 12500, subd. (a).) The Vehicle Code violation provided the officers with reasonable suspicion to detain him. The patdown search was also proper because the officers were justified in believing Parrott was armed. They saw a heavy item bulging in Parrott’s front pocket, which he touched several times during the encounter. The search occurred after the officers discovered that Parrott’s license was suspended and after he physically resisted the officers’ attempts to handcuff him. The search was lawful under the Fourth Amendment.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: