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People v. Ruffin

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Fourth Division

June 6, 2017

THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
ELIJAH JOE RUFFIN, Defendant and Appellant.

         APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. TA137412, John Cheroske and Kelvin D. Filer, Judges. Reversed.

          Theresa Osterman Stevenson, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.

          Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General, Gerald A. Engler, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Lance E. Winters, Assistant Attorney General, Zee Rodriguez and Corey J. Robins, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

          WILLHITE, J.

         By information, appellant Elijah Joe Ruffin was charged with corporal injury to a cohabitant (Pen. Code, § 273.5, subd. (a))[1] and assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury (§ 245, subd. (a)(4)), based on a single alleged assault on Katisha E. It was also alleged that he had suffered two prior strike convictions (§§ 667, subd. (d), 1170.12, subd. (b)) and had served two prior prison terms (§ 667.5, subd. (b)).[2]

         In the master calendar court, on the date set for trial, appellant exercised his right to represent himself under Faretta v. California (1975) 422 U.S. 806, after the court indicated it would find good cause to continue the trial because appellant's appointed counsel was engaged in another trial. Before the court granted the Faretta request, appellant initialed and signed a written Faretta advisement form. Thereafter, appellant represented himself at trial before a different judge, and a jury convicted him of both counts. The trial court found the strike and prior prison term allegations true, struck one strike at sentencing, and sentenced appellant to total term of eight years in state prison.

         On appeal, appellant contends that the master calendar court failed to adequately advise him of the dangers and disadvantages of self-representation. We agree. The court's inquiry consisted of asking whether appellant initialed and signed the form (he did) and whether he had any questions (he did not). The court did not ascertain on the record that defendant read and understood the written Faretta form. The court also failed to inquire about ambiguities in appellant's responses regarding his understanding of the nature of the charges against him. And nothing in the record-not the oral proceedings or the written Faretta form-advised defendant of the penal consequences of conviction-27-years-to-life in state prison. Considering all these circumstances and reviewing the entire record de novo, we conclude that appellant's Faretta waiver was invalid, because the master calendar court's inquiry about the Faretta form and the remainder of the record fail to adequately demonstrate that that appellant understood the dangers and disadvantages of representing himself consistent with established case authority. Therefore, we reverse the judgment.[3]


         Katisha E. testified that she began dating appellant in 2015 and moved into his home in March of that year. On April 2, 2015, she awoke around 2:00 a.m. when she heard appellant searching through her purse. Appellant accused Katisha E. of being a prostitute, and struck and choked her, resulting in swelling and redness to her right eye, bruising to her left eye, and bruises and a large bump to her right shoulder. Katisha E. moved to her stepmother's house that night but did not report the incident to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department until April 5, 2015.


         On September 30, 2015, the last day for trial, appellant's assigned alternate public defender was engaged in trial in another case. In the master calendar department, a substitute alternate public defender asked the court to continue the case until October 6, when appellant's assigned attorney would be finished with the other trial. The court asked appellant, “You give up your right to go to trial today and agree to October 6 or not?” When appellant replied “no, ” the court stated that it would find good cause to continue the trial.

         The alternate public defender then informed the court that appellant wanted to start the trial and proceed in pro. per. The court responded, “You are not that stupid. You have one of the best lawyers in the county.” Appellant stated, “You can't keep me in jail for allegations. I have rights. You are unconstitutionally keeping me in prison. You are violating my rights to a speedy trial.” The court told appellant, “don't talk to me anymore. Put him back. Any family here?” Appellant's father stated that he was present. The court said, “Maybe you can talk to him. He wants to commit suicide. He has a good lawyer. He doesn't know how to be a lawyer. If he wants to, I will let him. If you want to talk to him, it's up to you. You want to talk to him?” The father replied, “I can talk to him but he wants a speedy trial.” The court stated, “Okay. Thanks for helping me. We will pass this.” The court then took a recess.

         The court provided appellant with a copy of a document later described by the court as “the pro. per. policy memorandum of Local Rule 6.41, ”[4] as well as a written advisement and waiver of right to counsel form. On the waiver form, appellant checked the boxes advising him of, among other things, his right to counsel, his right to represent himself, and a lengthy, detailed list of dangers and disadvantages of self-representation. In the portion of the form regarding the charges, appellant checked the box indicating that he understood he was “charged with the following crime(s), ” but the space for listing the charges was left blank. He checked the box stating that he knew “the crime(s) with which you are charged (is) (are) (general) (specific) intent crime(s), ” but he failed to circle either. He also checked boxes indicating that he knew what facts had to be proved before he could be found guilty and knew the legal defenses. Nothing in the form advised him of the penal consequences of conviction. Because he was eligible for treatment as a third-strike defendant, with two prior prison terms alleged alleged, he was subject to a possible sentence of 27 years to life in state prison.[5] He checked boxes affirming that he understood the court's recommendation that he not represent himself and that it remained his wish to represent himself. Finally, he signed and dated the form, certifying: “I have read, understood and considered all of the above warnings included in this petition, and I still want to represent myself. I freely and voluntarily give up my right to have a lawyer represent me.”

         When the court reconvened, the following proceedings occurred:

         “THE COURT: Recalling People vs. Ruffin. I have documents by Mr. Ruffin. You understand you are requesting to go to trial today and to represent yourself. Is that your wish?

         “THE DEFENDANT: Yes.

         “THE COURT: You had an opportunity to read the documents submitted to you. Those were the pro. per. policy memorandum of Local Rule 6.41. Did you read that?

         “THE DEFENDANT: Yes.

         “THE COURT: Did you understand it?

         “THE DEFENDANT: Yes.

         “THE COURT: I am holding a document entitled Advisement of Waiver of Right to Counsel of 4 pages. On the right-hand side it ...

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