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Name: United States v. Mack
Case #: 03-10204
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 03/30/2004

Appellant represented himself at his trial for distribution of cocaine base. His behavior at trial was “obstreperous, contemptuous, and demonstrative of his unwillingness or inability to abide by directions” from the court. Appellant was warned that if his behavior continued he would be removed from the courtroom. He was subsequently taken from the courtroom, questioning of witnesses ceased, and he was precluded from making a closing argument. The court also precluded the prosecution from presenting argument. The jury was instructed, with appellant present, and the next day issued a guilty verdict. The appellate court here reversed the conviction. Although defendants cannot be allowed to manipulate and control the courtroom, a court cannot eliminate important elements of a trial, no matter how “vexed” it becomes. Appellant was prevented from calling witnesses and deprived of an argument, which was a denial of his right to a full trial. The error was structural, and he deserves a new trial.