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In 1814 British scholar and writer Henry Kett wrote “A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client,” a truism if there ever was one. This was later adopted by the Supreme Court of the United States. who wrote “the adage that a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client” is the product of years of experience by seasoned litigators. (Kay v. Ehrler, 499 US 432, 437 (1991).
A federal judge today granted Dylann Roof’s motion to represent himself.
Roof, who is accused of killing nine people at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June 2015, was deemed competent to stand trial last week.
The Sixth Amendment grants a defendant the right to proceed without counsel when he voluntarily and intelligently elects to do so. Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. at 835, 95 S.Ct. 2525. The right to self-representation applies at any crucial stage in the proceedings. See Kearse v. State, 858 So.2d 348 (Fla. 1st DCA 2003) (holding that the defendant had the right to represent himself during pre-trial suppression hearing).
A defendant’s request for self-representation must be unequivocal. See Tennis v. State, 997 So.2d 375, 378 (Fla.2008). Once a defendant makes an unequivocal request for self-representation, the trial court is obligated to hold a Faretta hearing to determine whether the defendant is knowingly and intelligently waiving his right to court-appointed counsel. Id. The failure of a trial court to hold a Faretta hearing to determine whether the defendant could represent himself is per se reversible error that entitles a defendant to a new trial. Id. at 379.
Roof faces 33 federal charges: nine counts of violating the Hate Crime Act resulting in death; three counts of violating the Hate Crime Act involving an attempt to kill; nine counts of obstruction of exercise of religion resulting in death; three counts of obstruction of exercise of religion involving an attempt to kill and use of a dangerous weapon; and nine counts of use of a firearm to commit murder during and in relation to a crime of violence.
If convicted, he could face the death penalty.
Justice Harry Blackmun, joined by Chief Justice Warren Burger and Associate Justice (later Chief) William Rehnquist, dissented from the Faretta ruling, and wrote, “If there is any truth to the old proverb that ‘one who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client,’ the Court by its opinion today now bestows a constitutional right on one to make a fool of himself.”
Dylann Roof will likely prove Blackmun right, and perhaps earn himself a Darwin award, too.
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