Thursday, June 18, 2020

Mid-trial Waiver of Right to Counsel Was Not Knowing; Conviction Reversed

United States v. Hamett, 2020 WL 3167626 (10th Cir. June 15, 2020) (OK): The panel sets aside Hamett’s convictions, including kidnapping, and remands for a new trial because Hamett’s mid-trial waiver of his right to counsel was not made knowingly and intelligently.

The panel found that the district court’s self-representation warnings were inadequate. The court did not confirm on the record that Hamett knew the charges against him, understood the maximum punishments if convicted (because the court advised him incorrectly), was aware of the available defenses to the charges or comprehended his obligation to comply with federal evidentiary and procedural rules.

The panel also held there were no case-specific factors that would allow it to conclude that in spite of the court’s inadequate discussion with Hamett about the Von Moltke factors (322 U.S. at 724), his waiver of his right to counsel still was knowing and intelligent when it was made. Unlike in other cases where the court pointed to factors that rescued an otherwise deficient discussion, here, Hamett did not have prior experience with the criminal justice system, nor did he have formal legal training and experience with criminal trials. The appointment of standby counsel did not cure the inadequate discussion either.

Chief Judge Tymkovich dissented.