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Name: U.S. v. Johnson et al.
Case #: 08-10147
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 07/06/2010

When a pro se defendant exhibits eccentric courtroom behavior, but that behavior is not disruptive or defiant, the trial court is not required to revoke self-representation, nor would it be justified in doing so. The court held three Faretta hearings during which it advised the defendants of their right to self-representation and also of the dangers in doing so. The defendants insisted on representing themselves. During the proceedings, the defendants refused to tell the court their names and dates of birth, filed “meaningless and nonsensical documents,” insisted on wearing prison attire before the jury, and made “off-the-wall comments” during trial. After being convicted, defendants argued their pro per status should have been revoked because their courtroom behavior resulted in an unfair trial. The appellate court held the trial court properly did not terminate pro per status. Although defendants exhibited “wacky” behavior at times, they made opening and closing arguments, cross-examined witnesses, testified on their own behalf, and argued jury instructions. In short, they did not engage in such disruptive behavior that the fairness of the trial was jeopardized.
The court properly found the defendants were competent to represent themselves within the meaning of Indiana v. Edwards (2008) 554 U.S. 164. Because the defendants made strange comments in court and were refusing counsel, the court had them examined by an expert who opined there was no indication of mental disorder. After the evaluation, the court granted defendants Faretta requests. At the time the court ruled on the requests the state of the law was that if a defendant was deemed competent to stand trial, he was also deemed competent to represent himself. Appellants argued on appeal that under Edwards , which was decided after their trial, they should not have been found competent to represent themselves, notwithstanding the court’s decision on their competence to stand trial. The appellate court affirmed. The district court actually considered not only defendants competence to stand trial, but also whether they had the mental capacity to represent themselves. The district court found that both defendants could understand information in a normal manner, express themselves coherently, and assist in conducting their own defense. Appellants were fools to represent themselves, but they were clearly competent to do so.