Self-represented defendant’s constitutional right to counsel was violated when the trial court removed him from the courtroom during trial without appointing standby counsel to represent him. While on trial for making criminal threats and other offenses, Ramos elected to represent himself. Prior to opening statements the trial court excluded Ramos from the courtroom due to his disruptive behavior. No standby counsel was appointed to represent him during the prosecution’s opening statements and direct examination of Garcia, the alleged victim of the threats. Ramos was then permitted to return to the courtroom and cross-examine the witness. He was found guilty and appealed, arguing his Sixth Amendment right to counsel was denied, mandating per se reversal. Held: Reversed. A trial court’s decision to involuntarily remove a self-represented defendant from trial without appointing substitute counsel to represent him during his absence implicates the defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights to be present at trial, to counsel at all critical stages of the proceedings, and to self-representation. Here, Ramos was necessarily deprived of his right to counsel during the period that he was involuntarily removed from his trial. Reversal is required “if the accused is denied counsel at a critical stage of his trial” (U.S. v. Cronic (1984) 466 U.S. 648). Ramos was excluded from the courtroom and without legal representation during the prosecution’s direct examination of the alleged victim of the criminal threat. There is no question that this was a critical stage of the criminal proceeding and that the absence of counsel for the defense rendered the trial fundamentally unfair.
The full opinion is on the court’s website here: http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/B248512.PDF