See update below.
It was only this weekend when we reviewed the court’s decision to declare Dylann Roof competent (or at least sane enough) to stand trial. In the blink of an eye the accused mass murderer seems to be doing his level best to prove the courts wrong and act as crazy as possible. With considerable reluctance, the judge in the case has granted a motion by the defendant to allow him to act as his own attorney. Yes… seriously.
Wearing his prison uniform, Dylann Roof spoke to Judge Gergel Monday morning and filed a motion to represent himself.
Judge Richard Gergel stated the crimes Dylann Roof is charged with and his potential punishment, going through process of making sure Roof understands he’s giving up his rights by defending himself.
Roof told the court he is capable of filing objections, motions, and handling witness questioning. He said he’s ready to go with jury selection.
After conceding that a standby counsel be present, Gergel said Roof has made a clear waiver of his rights and has the ability to self-represent.
Not that I’m an expert on the subject, but most attorneys I know generally agree on one thing about pro se legal representation in general. If you’re fighting anything more serious than a traffic ticket it’s probably not a good idea. In this case it sounds like a pretty staggering decision for somebody who didn’t even finish high school. He’s facing two trials – one state and one federal – and in each case the government is seeking the death penalty. His court appointed attorneys in each case have offered a guilty plea if they reduce it to life in prison but neither the prosecutors nor Roof seem close to a deal on that.
What I have to wonder here is whether or not this will result in some sort of appeal after the fact. If Roof conducts his own defense and blows it completely, will he be somehow able to claim that they shouldn’t have let him act as his own lawyer and demand a new trial? That could drag this thing out for years on end before we even get to the final appeals phase.
There is zero doubt in my mind that Roof is guilty and, as I wrote here over the summer, there are some beasts which just need to die. But he still has to have full access to his rights until we get a guilty verdict. I suppose that includes the right to represent himself. But if this turns out to be some sort of ploy to prolong the inevitable it just feels like there should be some way to circumvent that strategy.
Well, now I feel somewhat better. My friend Doug Mataconis offers the background on whether or not this could drag out the case on appeal and it sounds like it shouldn’t.
A common question that comes up in cases like this is whether a Defendant may use the fact that they represented themselves and made errors during the trial that arguably amount to ineffective assistance of counsel in any appeal of a guilty verdict. The short answer to that question is no. In both Ferretta and other cases, the Supreme Court, along with numerous lower courts have ruled that one price the Defendant pays for choosing to represent themselves is that they will be assumed to be as aware of the relevant laws and procedures as any licensed attorney and that they will be held to the same standards of conduct as such an attorney. For this reason, a Judge who allows a Defendant to represent themselves in a case that would otherwise require counsel will often give the Defendant an extensive speech on the record explaining the consequences of waiving the right of representation, part of which includes waiving the right to raise ‘ineffective assistance’ on appeal. This is similar to the rules that establish that an attorney representing a criminal defendant cannot raise this issue on appeal if it appears from the record that the trial attorney was deliberately acting in a manner that would create an ‘ineffective assistance’ defense on appeal, nor can a self-represented defendant raise as a an error on appeal the fact that the Court granted his request for self-representation unless it appears from the record that the request should not have been granted because the Defendant was not competent at the time of trial.
Doug goes on to speculate that Roof may just want to act as his own attorney in an attempt to use the trial as a platform to espouse his political views. That’s possible I suppose, but does anyone really want to hear that?