June 23, 2011

Colorado Court of Appeals criminal law decision 6-23-11 People v. Wilson

People v. Wilson            Competency
Facts: Mr. Wilson fired his public defenders, and proceeded pro se – a wise choice on a first-degree murder case. The trial court appointed advisory counsel, R.W.. At a hearing where Mr. Wilson appeared out of it, the trial court ordered a competency evaluation - over Mr. Wilson’s objection. The state hospital adjusted his medications, and the trial court later found Mr. Wilson competent to proceed. Sometime before trial, Mr. Wilson wised up, and asked for a lawyer, and the trial court appointed advisory counsel, R.W. to now represent Mr. Wilson at trial. Just prior to trial, Mr. Wilson claimed R.W. was using drugs. The trial court found the claims unfounded, but also found a conflict and appointed another lawyer, Mr. Wilson’s third. Again sometime just prior to trial, Mr. Wilson conjured up a conflict, and the trial court found none. Mr. Wilson lost his wisdom, and proceeded pro se. Unfortunately for Mr. Wilson, the prosecution proved its case, and the trial court sentenced him to life. Mr. Wilson filed a direct appeal, did not raise the competency issues, and the CofA affirmed his conviction. Thereafter, Mr. Wilson filed a 35(c) motion claiming ineffective assistance of counsel. The trial court appointed 35(c) counsel, now Mr. Wilson'a fourth lawyer, to prosecute the motion. 35(c) Counsel filed another motion for Mr. Wilson, and the trial court denied all 35(c) issues without a hearing.
Issue: Whether the public defenders appointed to the case originally ineffectively represented Mr. Wilson when they did not seek a competency review prior to Mr. Wilson’s decision to proceed pro se?
Held: No, of course not.
Reasoning: Mr. Wilson wanted the court to find that the public defenders originally assigned to the case had a duty to get a competency review to figure out if Mr. Wilson not only was competent to proceed pro se, but also competent to represent himself in trial. Mr. Wilson cited Indiana v. Edwards, 554 U.S. 164 (2008), where the U.S. Supreme Court held that the trial court in Indiana did not violate Mr. Edwards right to proceed pro se by appointing counsel to represent him. The Court in Edwards found no error where the trial court found Mr. Edwards competent to proceed to trial, but not competent to represent himself. Thus, the Court in Edwards, held that under these facts the right to proceed pro se is not absolute. Here, Mr. Wilson argues that the trial court should have appointed Mr. Wilson counsel because although competent for trial, he was not competent to represent himself at trial. The CofA declined to find any error. The CofA cited Godinez v. Moran, 113 S.Ct. 2680 (1993), where the U.S. Supreme Court held that the competency standard for proceeding to trial, testifying, waiving counsel, etc. is the same standard. Prior to Godinez, Colorado in People v. Arguello, 772 P.2d 87 (Colo. 1989), and other jurisdictions around the nation held that a higher competency standard applied when a person chooses to waive his or her right to an attorney and proceed pro se. Incidentally, Mr. Wilson on appeal sought to fire his appellate counsel and proceed pro se. The CofA declined his request. Clients like this, although exceedingly rare, make me want to choke myself with my own scrotum.

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