The Second Department determined County Court should have honored defendant’s request to represent himself. Neither defendant’s mental health nor his responses to questions about legal terms was a valid reason for denying the request:
“A defendant in a criminal case may invoke the right to defend pro se provided: (1) the request is unequivocal and timely asserted, (2) there has been a knowing and intelligent waiver of the right to counsel, and (3) the defendant has not engaged in conduct which would prevent the fair and orderly exposition of the issues” … . * * *
To the extent that the County Court based its denial of the defendant’s application on the ground that he had a history of mental illness, this was error. “New York courts can, in appropriate circumstances, deny a self-representation request if a severely-mentally-ill defendant who is competent to stand trial otherwise lacks the mental capacity to waive counsel and proceed pro se” … . This is not such a case. While the defendant acknowledged prior hospitalizations for mental illness, there is no indication in the record that the defendant was severely mentally ill at the time he made his requests to proceed pro se, or that any mental condition at that time rendered him incapable of intelligently and voluntarily waiving his right to counsel and representing himself.
To the extent that the County Court based its denial of the defendant’s application on his failure to correctly answer the prior Judge’s questions about certain legal terms, the Court of Appeals has pointed out that “[t]o accept a defendant’s lack of knowledge of legal principles and rules of law or his unfamiliarity with courtroom procedures as the ground for concluding that he is not qualified to represent himself would in effect be to eviscerate the constitutional right of self-representation; such limitations could confidently be said to exist in nearly every criminal case in which the defendant had not received legal training”… . People v Paulin, 2016 NY Slip Op 04735, 2nd Dept 6-15-16
CRIMINAL LAW (DEFENDANT’S REQUEST TO REPRESENT HIMSELF SHOULD HAVE BEEN HONORED, CRITERIA EXPLAINED)/ATTORNEYS (CRIMINAL LAW, DEFENDANT’S REQUEST TO REPRESENT HIMSELF SHOULD HAVE BEEN HONORED, CRITERIA EXPLAINED)/PRO SE (CRIMINAL LAW, DEFENDANT’S REQUEST TO REPRESENT HIMSELF SHOULD HAVE BEEN HONORED, CRITERIA EXPLAINED)