Wednesday, June 07, 2017

People v. Ruffin (Cal. Ct. App. - June 6, 2017)

The first couple of paragraphs of today's opinion make clear the problem of rushing through things like advising criminal defendants of their rights.  Haste makes waste, as it were.

"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."

So that's a lesson.  One worth noting.

But when I read the rest of the opinion, and got some more details, I think the lesson here is not simply about haste making waste.  Reading between the lines, we might also want to add to that lesson the principle that "anger makes waste" as well.  'Cause I get a sense that this whole thing may have gone down -- awry, even -- because the judge was a bit miffed.  And in "getting back" at the defendant by short shrifting things, the judge ended up making a mess of it.  As well as resulting in the need for an entirely new trial.

Here are the details.  See if you think I'm reading them correctly:

"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."

[Okay. So far so good.  The judge wants to do the right thing.  Maybe is being a bit blunt.  And short, even.  But perhaps all in service of a good cause.]

"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,” as well as a written advisement and waiver of right to counsel form. . . . 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 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 COURT: Did you understand it?
“THE COURT: I am holding a document entitled Advisement of Waiver of Right to Counsel of 4 pages. On the right-hand side it has initials E.R. Did you put that in there?
“THE COURT: That stand for Elijah Ruffin?
“THE COURT: Is that your signature?
“THE COURT: You have any questions about anything before I send you to trial forthwith?
“THE COURT: Okay. Sent to Department C, Judge Filer for trial today.”

"When the case was called that morning in the trial department, the prosecutor stated his appearance, and the trial court noted that appellant was representing himself. Appellant replied: “Really I don’t want to represent myself pro per. But I have no choice. I’ve been in prison. I wanted a speedy trial. . . . I really would like someone with some type of legal responsibility to represent me because now I have to ask for a couple days to go over this to build a defense for me.” The court replied, “All that should have been taken care of in Department D. Today is day ten of ten. . . . [¶] I’m confident you have been granted pro per status. So we’re here and ready to proceed with the trial, and I intend on going through with the trial.” Appellant stated, “I had no time to go over any paperwork, so if I can ask for some time to go over paperwork, and come back [at] a later date so I can have a defense. This is the first time I’ve seen paperwork regarding this case at all.” The prosecutor replied that appellant had “indicated he was ready today.” Appellant stated, “And what I mean by ready . . . I was ready to go to trial to defend myself with some type of legal help.” The court denied appellant’s request, stating, “No, this has already been litigated and you can’t play games with the court system. I have a waiver form that has been initialed by you and signed by you indicating that you have been properly advised and that you want to represent yourself. Once that determination was made by Judge Cheroske he granted you that right, so the case was sent here for trial.”

So, in short, the first judge had a guy who said he wanted to represent himself because he was not willing to waive his speedy trial rights.  Which was both stupid and created a bit of a hassle for the court.  So the first judge rushed through things.  And then, when it got to the second judge, we had a little of a repeat of the same thing.  A bit rushed.  Probably a bit miffed.  Forced to do a trial at the last minute of a case s/he knew nothing about.  So be it.  Don't really care about all the procedural details. Let's just do this.

Which I understand.  If only at an emotional level.

But it results in wastes like this.  An entire new trial.

To reiterate:  Haste makes waste.