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Name: People v. Ruffin
Case #: B270940
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 4
Opinion Date: 06/06/2017

Although the defendant asked to represent himself and signed a Faretta waiver form, the trial court failed to ensure that defendant’s waiver of right to counsel was knowing and voluntary. Ruffin was charged with corporal injury to a cohabitant (Pen. Code, § 273.5, subd. (a)) and assault by means of force likely to inflict great bodily injury (Pen. Code, § 245, subd. (a)(4)). Strike priors (Pen. Code, § 667, subd. (d)) and two prior prison terms (Pen. Code, § 667.5, subd. (b)) were alleged. When the master calendar court agreed to a continue Ruffin’s trial because his attorney was busy in another case, Ruffin exercised his right to self-representation (Faretta v. California (1975) 422 U.S. 806). He signed a written Faretta advisement form. The court granted his request. Ruffin was sent to the trial court and was convicted of the charges. On appeal, Ruffin argued the master calendar court failed to adequately advise him of the dangers of self-representation before granting his Faretta request. Held: Reversed. Under the Sixth Amendment a defendant has the right to conduct his own defense provided that he knowingly and voluntarily waives his right to counsel. The record must reflect that the defendant understood the disadvantages of self-representation, including the risks and complexities of the case. Here, the master calendar court asked Ruffin whether he had initialed and signed the form, which he had, and whether he had any questions (he did not). It failed to ascertain whether he read and understood the form, which did not enumerate the charges against him and was confusing as to the intent requirements for the crimes. The court did not advise Ruffin of the penal consequences of conviction or make sure he understood the nature of the charges against him. The record does not reflect a knowing and voluntary waiver of defendant’s right to counsel. [Editor’s Note: There is presently a split of authority in California as to whether the court must specifically advise the defendant of the maximum penal consequences of conviction in taking a Faretta waiver.]

Assuming that inadequate Faretta waivers can be harmless in some circumstances, the record here fails to show whether defendant would have chosen to represent himself had he been properly advised. When he appeared in the trial department after the master calendar court granted his Faretta request, Ruffin told the court that he didn’t really want to represent himself, but felt he had no other choice to ensure a speedy trial. These statements reflect that his request for self-representation was made in passing anger or frustration after the master calendar court agreed to continue his trial, and he thereafter expressed ambivalence regarding self-representation. Ruffin’s request for self-representation was not knowing, voluntary and intelligent beyond a reasonable doubt. [Editor’s Note: There is presently a split of authority in California as to whether an inadequate Faretta waiver is reversible per se or is subject to harmless error analysis.]

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