The Second Department, reversing defendant’s conviction, determined the judge should have ensured defendant knew the risks of conducting the trial pro se before allowing defendant, a disbarred attorney, to represent himself:
A court must determine that the defendant’s waiver of the right to counsel is made competently, intelligently, and voluntarily before allowing that defendant to represent himself or herself … . In order to make that evaluation, the court “must undertake a ‘searching inquiry’ designed to ‘insur[e] that the defendant [is] aware of the dangers and disadvantages of proceeding without counsel'” … . The court’s inquiry “must accomplish the goals of adequately warning a defendant of the risks inherent in proceeding pro se, and apprising a defendant of the singular importance of the lawyer in the adversarial system of adjudication” … . Nonetheless, no specific litany is required and a reviewing court may look to the whole record, not simply to the questions asked and answers given during a waiver colloquy, in order to determine whether a defendant actually understood the dangers of self-representation … . Subsequent warnings, however, cannot cure a trial court’s earlier error in not directing the defendant’s attention to the dangers and disadvantages of self-representation … .
Here, although the record demonstrates that the Supreme Court was aware of the defendant’s pedigree information, including his status as a disbarred attorney, the court failed to ascertain that the defendant was aware of the risks inherent in proceeding without a trial attorney and the benefits of having counsel represent him at trial … . Contrary to the People’s contention, there is nothing in the record that demonstrates that the dangers and disadvantages of self-representation were known by the defendant … , as the court neither “tested defendant’s understanding of choosing self-representation nor provided a reliable basis for appellate review” … . People v Crispino, 2021 NY Slip Op 04918, Second Dept 9-1-21