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The People v. andrew D. Johnson

January 30, 2012


Solano County Ct.App. 1/4 A124643 Super. Ct. Nos. VCR 191129 & VCR 191363 Judge: Allan P. Carter

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chin, J.

Defendants in criminal cases have a federal constitutional right to represent themselves. (Faretta v. California (1975) 422 U.S. 806 (Faretta).) In Indiana v. Edwards (2008) 554 U.S. 164 (Edwards), however, the United States Supreme Court held that states may, but need not, deny self-representation to defendants who, although competent to stand trial, lack the mental health or capacity to represent themselves at trial -- persons the court referred to as "gray-area defendants." (Id. at p. 174.) We must decide whether California courts may accept this invitation and apply a higher standard of mental competence for self-representation than for competency to stand trial.

Because California law -- which, of course, is subject to the United States Constitution -- has long been that criminal defendants have no right of self-representation, we conclude that California courts may deny self-representation when the United States Constitution permits such denial. We also conclude the trial court acted within its discretion in revoking defendant's self-representation status.

I. Facts and Procedural History

These facts are taken largely from the Court of Appeal's opinion.

A jury convicted defendant Andrew D. Johnson of crimes arising out of two separate assaults. The facts of the crimes are irrelevant to the legal issue before us. Essentially, the evidence presented at trial showed that during the early morning hours of June 23, 2007, defendant committed a brutal sexual assault on a Vallejo bartender. Later that same day, he hit the patron of a sandwich shop on the head with a metal chair, rendering him temporarily unconscious.

A single judge, Judge Allan P. Carter, was assigned to the case for all proceedings. Defendant was originally represented by counsel, but on July 5, 2007, he asked to represent himself, and Judge Carter allowed him to do so. He represented himself at various pretrial proceedings through January 2008. On January 30, 2008, Judge Carter expressed a doubt about defendant's competence to be tried due to his unusual behavior and the nature and tone of letters defendant had written to the court and others. The court appointed an attorney to provide an opinion on defendant's competency and to represent defendant at any competency hearing. After meeting with defendant, the attorney told the court he believed it was a "close call," but he shared the court's concern about defendant's competency. The court suspended the criminal proceedings and appointed two experts, and later a third, to evaluate defendant's competency. Defendant refused to meet with any of these experts.

A jury trial on defendant's competency was held in October 2008. Dr. Kathleen O'Meara testified for the defense. She said there was "a very strong possibility" that defendant had some type of delusional thought disorder coupled with conspiracy paranoia and, "err[ing] in the direction of caution," concluded that it was "more likely than not" that defendant was not competent. She said she believed defendant understood the nature and purpose of the proceedings against him, at least to some degree, but that his paranoia might impair his ability to cooperate with defense counsel in a rational manner. She based her opinion on her review of transcripts of the pretrial proceedings, defendant's letters, defendant's medical chart, and conversations with correctional staff. She said it was "very unusual" to offer an opinion without having interviewed the defendant and that her opinion was "therefore somewhat speculative." She had reservations about her opinion and said that defendant could be malingering.

Two psychiatrists testified for the prosecution. Dr. Herb McGrew testified that it was not possible to form an opinion on competency without interviewing defendant. He reviewed collateral materials including court transcripts and defendant's letters and medical chart. He said these materials suggested the possibility of mental illness but no conclusion could be reached without interviewing defendant; one can be "extremely crazy and be competent" so an interview is essential in determining competency. Dr. Murray Eiland also testified that an interview was essential and that he could not form an opinion on competency without one.

The court instructed the jury, "The defendant is mentally competent to stand trial if he can do all of the following: [¶] One, understand the nature and purpose of the criminal proceedings again[st] him; [¶] Two, assist in a rational manner his attorney in presenting his defense or conduct his own defense in a rational manner; and, [¶] Three, understand his own status and condition in the criminal proceedings."

On October 28, 2008, the jury found defendant competent to stand trial. The court reinstated criminal proceedings and defendant resumed self-representation.

Two days later, the court expressed concern about defendant's ability to represent himself. It told defendant, "You may be competent to stand trial, but I'm not convinced that you are competent to represent yourself." It noted that in Edwards, supra, 554 U.S. 164, filed the previous June, the United States Supreme Court had held that judges may insist on representation by counsel for those who are competent to stand trial but who suffer from mental illness to the point where they are not competent to conduct trial proceedings by themselves.

The court found that defendant met this description. It catalogued his bizarre, noncompliant, and disruptive behavior in court and in jail. It found that defendant "has disorganized thinking, deficits in sustaining attention and concentration, impaired expressive abilities, anxiety and other common symptoms of severe mental illnesses which can impair his ability to play the significantly expanded role required for self-representation, even if he can play the lesser role of a represented defendant." Over defendant's objection, the court revoked his self-representation status and appointed the attorney who had represented him during the competency proceeding to represent him in the criminal proceedings. That attorney represented him from that point on, including at trial and sentencing.

The trial court sentenced defendant to prison, and he appealed. The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment. It rejected defendant's argument that the trial court erred in revoking his self-representation status. We granted defendant's petition for review limited to the question regarding defendant's self-representation.

II. Discussion

In Edwards, supra, 554 U.S. 164, the high court held that states may, but need not, deny self-representation in limited circumstances due to a defendant's mental incapacity. The trial court relied on Edwards in revoking defendant's self-representation status. This circumstance gives rise to two questions: (1) Should California accept the high court's invitation; that is, may California courts deny self-representation when Edwards permits such denial? (2) If so, did the trial court properly deny self-representation in this case? We will discuss the former question first. Because we conclude that California courts may deny self-representation when Edwards permits, we will then proceed to the second question.

A. Whether California courts may deny self-representation when Indiana v. Edwards (2008) 554 ...

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