Browse Category

Columns - Page 2

Chief Executive Officer’s Perspective: The Value of Friendship

“Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold.”

                                                                                       –Joseph Parry

We often have friends that we don’t see every day, yet when we do, we are able to pick up right where we left off – as if it was only yesterday. Friends like that are treasures, more valuable and precious than gold.

With all the stress, tragedy, and uncertainty of our world (which are only compounded by the nature of our profession), it is at times a real struggle to maintain a sense of normalcy. Sometimes it is all we can do to maintain our sanity. Then you throw the pandemic into the mix… We need those dear old friends now more than ever.

Now is the time for us to band together and rely on each other for support and tools to make it through this unprecedented time. While you are at it, why don’t you try to expand your sphere of close friends. TCDLA is the perfect place to both stay connected with old friends, as well as being fertile grounds to reach out and develop new relationships.

With an upcoming election, a seemingly unending pandemic, and the uncertainty of what the new normal will be in our practices, there will be many opportunities for us to share our positions and thoughts. We all have biases no matter what race, religion, or gender you are – these are facts. I encourage everyone to make new friends and take a moment to remind ourselves that it is OK to think differently. Share your thoughts, explain to someone while starting a healthy conversation where you both listen and hear each other – respectful debates are okay. This last month, I have learned so many things and realized I have biases and am learning how to acknowledge them to strip them away. I am also focusing on my personal growth and understanding the effects the pandemic is having on my mental health and taking stress to another level.

I recently talked with my mother about everything that was going on, and she made several comments that made me take a step back and process what she said. Mom has always had a narrow view of how things should be. The responses and opinions she gave surprised me because I never thought she would be open to change, or open to considering the positions of people who think differently than her. It was not only encouraging, it was heartwarming: We could have a discussion that would not end in an argument or hurt feelings.

At the end of the day, especially during these times, we all need friendship and a place we can go to talk, vent, and commiserate – especially with people who should understand us like nobody else can. We are all struggling with the lack of interaction and the challenges of today’s new norm. More than ever, we need to be kinder, hear the pleas for attention, and reach out to a friend, family member, or colleague. I challenge you to check in with someone each day, start your morning off by doing something for somebody else. Surround yourself with positivity, and those will be the gold and silver of old and new TCDLA provides!

Editor’s Comment: Agree to Disagree

As criminal defense attorneys, each day we strive to advocate for and protect the rights of the accused, one citizen at a time. We do not punch a timeclock or have an eight-to-five job, and our work does not slow down or stop, even in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. We worry, obsess, and overcompensate while advocating for and defending our clients, often sacrificing time with family, friends, and loved ones. It is our belief and mission that we stand between the government and our clients, defending their liberty and protecting their rights, regardless of the circumstances. We are united in our belief that every defendant has a right to be heard and their constitutional rights protected at any cost. It is this belief system, which is engrained in us as defense lawyers, which has its origin and roots in the actions and deeds of our founding fathers, that we use as our mantra every day to protect those who cannot protect themselves.

Between all our members, we obviously have differences in our opinions regarding politics, social and economic policy, and other personally held beliefs and convictions. We all have a right to express those personal opinions and beliefs, but we should be tolerant and mindful of those who disagree with us. It is a healthy debate for our democracy, to agree to disagree on issues of social and cultural policy, politics, or other personal beliefs and convictions, which we hold as individuals in a democratic society. However, from time to time, we should be reminded that, as criminal defense attorneys, there is more that binds us than divides us, as we fight the common enemy to protect and advocate on behalf of the accused.

When we rang in the New Year, welcoming in 2020 on January 1st of this year, I don’t know that any of us would have thought this is where we would find ourselves in September, amid the worst worldwide pandemic since the Spanish Flu. The ability to practice law, specifically criminal defense work, has changed dramatically in the last six months and morphed into something no one could have imagined such a short time ago. It has taken the resiliency of our criminal defense bar statewide to ensure that the rights of the accused have been and continue to be protected as we adjust to this new normal.

Then George Floyd died, and those who are alleged to have been responsible for his death have been charged and arrested. As we had commented on previously, those individuals are entitled to and will have their day in court, as should all who stand accused of criminal conduct, however detestable or abhorrent it may be. Civil unrest grew and festered as it does, but this time the result was an outpouring of protests nationwide calling for police reform and social change, which has been long overdue.

I am sure everyone has a different opinion on how and why these protests occurred, and to what degree they were peaceful or ended up being non-peaceful. However, what has happened as these events have unfolded is the issues have become polarized, both politically and socially, and when we can’t agree, we sometimes label those we disagree with on the very issues and social change we are fighting for. Labels are a dangerous thing and far too easy to throw around, especially in our new digital age where a tweet or a Facebook post can be seen and ultimately heard instantaneously. As criminal defense attorneys, we fight every day in courts throughout the nation and this state, to prevent our clients from being labeled and discarded because of that label. Just because we do not agree with one another about certain issues does not mean we cannot have a civil disagreement regarding those issues, and at no time should our disagreements result in name-calling and labeling of those who oppose our beliefs or viewpoint.

John Lewis, in his last speech to America, stated, “Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good, necessary trouble.” Ladies and gentlemen, he is speaking to us. As criminal defense attorneys, we are at the forefront of getting into good and necessary trouble and fighting for the rights of the accused, which all too frequently are threatened, often involving components of racial injustice. We are on the same team, and we can agree to disagree, but should always be courteous to our fellow brothers and sisters who are in this fight with us, and always conduct ourselves as professionals.

Given the current state of the practice of law, specifically as it concerns the criminal defense bar, it is now more important than ever that we stay TCDLA Strong, and we fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. The pandemic has not yet run its course. Racism, sexism, hatred, and bigotry are unfortunately alive and well. There are constant attacks upon our freedoms and liberty, and continuous attempts to erode the very underpinnings of our constitution and the rule of law. Rest assured there will be other hurdles ahead, but, as the largest and strongest statewide criminal defense organization in the nation, we will and must face these together.

We draw upon and from each other, and it is our collective life experiences, diverse as they are, that enable us to grow and shape our lives and careers. It is this collective experience and diversity that makes us better advocates and stronger as an organization. Let us remember who we are, and what our mission statement is, by conducting ourselves with the dignity deserving of our life’s work while being respectful of each member’s beliefs and their right to hold those beliefs. Be safe, be strong, and always fight the good fight.

This editorial column is dedicated to Sarah Roland, who has given so much time and personal sacrifice in making the Voice the great resource and publication that it is today.

Ethics & The Law: Caught in a Trap

/

The following query was submitted to the Ethics Committee, whose hotline can be reached at 512-646-2734.

Here’s the background of my case:

The father of a 20-year-old son calls my office to represent the son on aggravated sexual assault allegation from six to seven years ago involving a female cousin. The cousin would have been about five or six at the time of the alleged offense and my PNC would have been 12 to 14. 

Female cousin “outcrys” in May of this year by giving a note to her sister describing the allegation. Her sister gives the note to their mom and Mom either gives the note or describes it to a counselor/therapist during a session.  Counselor/therapist tells Mom to report it to law enforcement or counselor/therapist would report under mandatory reporting duty.  

My PNC’s dad is the uncle of the mom of the complaining witness. Apparently, the family is pretty close-knit and everyone spends lots of time at Grandma’s house (PNC’s dad’s mother).

In our conversation, my PNC’s dad tells me he found an old computer at Grandma’s house. The computer belongs to the mom of the complaining witness. 

My PNC’s dad decides to go through the computer and tells me he finds several images of child pornography and bestiality. My PNC’s dad told me the images were actually named “9 year old,” “11 year old,” and so on. My PNC’s dad also finds videos/images of the complaining witness’ mom engaged in sexual activity with an adult male.

My PNC’s dad believes this computer can help his son.     

The computer is old, probably 2000-model desktop. Grandma did not complain about it being taken out of the house. Sounds like multiple people have had access to the computer, including the complaining witness and my PNC. My PNC is the person who told Dad he found the images on the computer. Dad took the computer and told Grandma (his mother) that he was taking it to law enforcement. Dad took possession of the computer sometime this week.

The complaining witness does not live there now, but did live there when she was in high school and the computer has been there ever since. Dad tells me that the images he found were dated 2002 and 2003.

I have not yet even talked to the Son, whom Dad asked me to represent. In the course of his consultation, I learned Dad has possession of child pornography, which I know are federal and state crimes. I advised Dad of this and the need to address the situation with law enforcement.

Question 1: Who is my client now? I have never given advice to the son, only Dad regarding Dad’s possession of child pornography.

Question 2: How do I keep myself out of “aiding and abetting or a party to” Dad’s continued possession of child pornography in violation of Texas and U.S. criminal law?

Question 3: How can I ethically facilitate the transfer of the child pornography to law enforcement?

Question 4: Can I still ethically represent the son in the underlying sex assault allegation?

ANSWERS

Keith Hampton

I don’t know what PNC means, but here are my answers in your emergency situation:   

As I understand it, the father is the only person you’ve offered legal advice to, so he is your client (Tex.R.Evid. 503).  Son is accused of sexual assault seven years after it allegedly happens.  I’m not seeing an ethical conflict (no opinion on legal conflict), but I also don’t know what the computer reveals.  Are both implicated?  If the father is not, your duty is to him, not the son, even if it means that the child porn hurts the son.  

You also say the father goes through his own mother’s house and finds Mom’s 10-year-old computer with child porn on this old computer that various people had access to.  Father now possesses someone else’s computer with child porn images.  Unless the father is implicated, then you turn it over to law enforcement.  If it does implicate your client – the father – then you take precautions to protect him. 

Joseph Connors

I have a problem with you trying to represent both the dad and the son, since ultimately you will probably have to withdraw from representing either of them.

  1. Get the computer to law enforcement and out of Dad’s possession as soon as possible.
    Tell Dad what he needs to know and get the computer to law enforcement as soon as possible. The best strategy is for YOU to hire another attorney to turn in the computer to local law enforcement; but your lawyer cannot disclose who hired him or where he got the computer from. The financially cheaper strategy is Dad turns in the computer to local law enforcement, who will question him where he got computer from and who downloaded the child pornography. The middle strategy is that you fax the DA a letter that a client has hired you to turn in a computer containing some child pornography, and you are inquiring as to which law enforcement agency you should turn the computer into.

  2. Rule One is get your fee up front and only represent ONE in a criminal affair (two relatives with different crimes are too interconnected – each may be a star witness for the other and each needs separate counsel from DAY ONE, plus DA may offer one a great deal or immunity to testify against the other!), so:
    Inform Dad that he is the only person who can hire you in this affair.  Refer Dad to another marvelous defense lawyer, whom the son can hire on the aggravated sexual assault allegation. Inform Dad that local police or the sheriff will want a statement of the accused admitting to the allegation. Tell Dad to tell his son not to talk at all to any law enforcement.

  3. You ask:

Question 1: Who is my client now? I have never given advice to the son, only Dad regarding Dad’s intentional possession of child pornography to aid son’s case.

Answer 1:  I agree with Keith. Your client is Dad, though Dad will say he does not need an attorney and will personally go turn in the computer to the police. Can you trust Dad to do that?  Or are you unwittingly giving Dad all the info he needs to destroy the computer’s hard drive (which is tampering with evidence, a state and federal felony)?

Question 2: How do I keep myself out of “aiding and abetting or a party to” Dad’s continued possession of child pornography in violation of Texas and U.S. criminal law?

Answer 2: Get the computer from Dad with a written letter signed by Dad asking you to turn the computer over to law enforcement. You keep that letter confidential and safe to cover your ass later on if Dad accuses you of criminal conduct by knowingly possessing child pornography.

Question 3: How can I ethically facilitate the transfer of the child pornography to law enforcement?

Answer 3:  Read A above.

Question 4: Can I still ethically represent the son in the underlying sex assault allegation?

Answer 4:  Read first answer above.

Thanks to Joseph Connors, Keith Hampton, Robyn Harlin, and Sharon Bass for helping with this article.

Federal Corner: The Sixth Amendment Right of Self-Representation

On August 6, 2020, a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the trial court’s termination of the defendant’s pro se status – because he asked an impermissible question during the cross-examination of a prosecution witness – violated his Sixth Amendment right of self-representation. United States v. Engel, ___F.3d___, 2020 WL 4519071 (9th Cir. August 6, 2020) Panel:  Circuit Judges William A. Fletcher, Jay S. Bybee and Paul J. Watford.  (Opinion by Bybee)

Judge Bybee’s opinion reads, in part, as follows:

An Overview of the Case

A jury convicted Appellant Todd Engel of obstruction of justice and interstate travel in aid of extortion. He contends that the district court violated the Sixth Amendment during his trial when the court terminated his right to represent himself and appointed standby counsel to represent him instead. We hold that Engel’s conduct was not sufficiently disruptive to justify termination of his right to self-representation. Because this is a structural error, we vacate Engel’s conviction and remand for a new trial.

The Facts of the Case

Engel’s criminal conviction stems from his involvement in an armed standoff between agents of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and a group of private militia members rallied behind Nevadan Cliven Bundy.1 In early April 2014, Engel traveled from his home in Idaho to Bunkerville, Nevada, to impede a BLM operation. When Engel and the other militia members confronted the BLM agents, Engel was holding an AR-15, wearing combat gear, and located on a bridge overlooking BLM’s position. Fortunately, no shots were ever fired, and the BLM agents eventually retreated.

The Indictment and the Order of Trial

Engel then became a target of federal criminal prosecution. In March 2016, a grand jury returned a superseding indictment against nineteen defendants. Engel was named in eleven counts. The district court severed the defendants’ trials into three tiers, placed Engel in Tier 3 (the tier containing the defendants alleged to be least culpable), and ordered those defendants to be tried first.

The Defendant Elected to Represent Himself

At the commencement of his trial, Engel asked to represent himself. After conducting a Faretta hearing, the district court granted his request, but appointed standby counsel to be used if necessary. Engel represented himself during the majority of the trial.

The Defendant’s Cross-Examination of a Government Witness

That changed on the twenty-first day of trial. While Engel was cross-examining a government witness, the following exchange occurred:

    1. Was Dan Love the special agent in charge of this operation?
    2. Yes, he was. He was an incident commander.
    3. And in any video or audio do—have you seen anywhere where I had any discussions with him?
    4. No.

GOVERNMENT COUNSEL: Again, found—well—again, foundation if we’re talking about which video and audio.

THE COURT: He’s answered the question.

BY PRO SE ENGEL:

    1. Isn’t it true that Dan Love’s under criminal investigation for—

GOVERNMENT COUNSEL: Objection, Your Honor.

THE COURT: Mr. Engel …

GOVERNMENT COUNSEL: Move to strike.

THE COURT: The jury will disregard Mr. Engel’s—

PRO SE ENGEL: No further questions.

The Strategy Behind the Cross-Examination

To put this incident in context, Dan Love was the BLM agent in charge of the impoundment effort. After the events near the Bundy Ranch, a government report was issued that detailed several breaches of protocol and abuses of power that Love committed during events having nothing to do with Bundy or Engel. Although the report said nothing about Love’s conduct during the confrontation with BLM agents in April 2014, Engel and his co-defendants hoped to get this information before the jury to cast BLM in a negative light. But the district court denied the defendants’ motion to compel Love’s attendance as a witness, finding that questioning Love about the report would be irrelevant. Thus, through the question he asked, Engel presumably sought to introduce the jury to the evidence underlying the government report regarding Love’s misconduct, even though Love was not testifying. Further, no criminal investigation of Love was ever initiated, so Engel’s question about whether Love was under criminal investigation implied a false premise.

The Government Sought a Sanction

After the district court excused the jury following Engel’s question, the government renewed its objection. The government argued that Engel ‘should be sanctioned for it and his pro se status should be revoked.’

The Defendant’s Demeanor

In response, Engel was calm and apologetic. He explained that he asked the question because Love had ‘sworn a Grand Jury testimony against me’ and Engel was frustrated that he was ‘not even going to be able to talk to Love.’ But he concluded his explanation by saying, ‘I apologize for the question’ and asked that he be allowed to continue representing himself.

The District Court Revoked the Defendant’s Right to Represent Himself

The district court ultimately agreed with the government. The court found that Engel’s question was ‘improper,’ and that Engel ‘knew very well that that question could not be asked.’ Accordingly, the district court revoked Engel’s right to represent himself, appointing standby counsel—John George—to represent Engel ‘for the remainder of the day.’ When George objected, arguing that Engel had ‘done a fairly remarkable job’ representing himself thus far and that a less drastic sanction was appropriate, the district court disagreed, finding that Engel’s ‘intentional ’ decision to ask the question ‘indicated that he’s not going … to follow my court order.’ The court also noted that Engel ‘was very smug about it afterwards when he went back and sat down, very proud of himself for sliding it in.’ Ultimately, the court was unwilling ‘to risk any more that Engel was going to say something in front of the jury that is not permitted and that would potentially cause me to call a mistrial.’ After hearing the court’s decision, Engel simply stated, ‘Okay. I’m sorry.’

Stand By Counsel Continued the Cross-Examination

George represented Engel the remainder of the twenty-first day of trial. During the proceedings, George cross-examined several more government witnesses on Engel’s behalf.

The Defendant was Permitted to Present Closing Argument

As the trial was drawing to a close, the district court allowed Engel to represent himself again for the purposes of closing argument.

The Verdict, Sentence and the Appeal

Following trial, the jury convicted Engel on two counts: Obstruction of the Due Administration of Justice in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1503 & 2, and Interstate Travel in Aid of Extortion in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1952(a)(2) & 2. The district court sentenced Engel to 168 months’ imprisonment and ordered him to pay $1,636,790.33 in restitution. An amended judgment against Engel was entered on September 24, 2018, and this appeal followed. 

The Standard of Review

We have never definitively articulated the standard of review that applies to a defendant’s claim on direct appeal of a criminal conviction that his Sixth Amendment right to self-representation was violated. Engel argues that we should apply de novo review. The Second, Third, Fifth, Eighth, and Tenth Circuits have taken this position. See United States v. Hausa, 922 F.3d 129, 134 (2d Cir. 2019) (per curiam); United States v. Weast, 811 F.3d 743, 748 (5th Cir. 2016); United States v. Mosley, 607 F.3d 555, 558 (8th Cir. 2010); United States v. Smith, 413 F.3d 1253, 1279 (10th Cir. 2005); United States v. Peppers, 302 F.3d 120, 127 (3d Cir. 2002) (employing ‘plenary review’). And at least one of our prior cases implicitly supports this position. See United States v. Flewitt, 874 F.2d 669, 676 (9th Cir. 1989) (holding that ‘the district court erred by not allowing the defendants to proceed pro se at trial’ (emphasis added)). The government contends that we should apply an abuse-of-discretion standard because the termination of a defendant’s right to self-representation implicates a district court’s management of the courtroom. The Seventh Circuit has taken this position. See United States v. Brock, 159 F.3d 1077, 1079 (7th Cir. 1998). Because we think the result in this case is the same under either standard, we need not resolve this split in authority. See United States v. Smith, 780 F.2d 810, 811 (9th Cir. 1986) (declining to clarify the correct standard of review because the outcome would be the same under any standard). (emphasis added)

The Sixth Amendment and Self-Representation

The Sixth Amendment grants a criminal defendant ‘personally the right to make his defense.’ Faretta, 422 U.S. at 819, 95 S.Ct. 2525. This right guarantees a defendant ‘actual control over the case he chooses to present to the jury,’ and it ‘exists to affirm the accused’s individual dignity and autonomy.’ McKaskle v. Wiggins, 465 U.S. 168, 178, 104 S.Ct. 944, 79 L.Ed.2d 122 (1984). As the Supreme Court has recognized, the right to self-representation has a longstanding historical pedigree, having been imported by the Framers from English legal practice. See Faretta, 422 U.S. at 821–32, 95 S.Ct. 2525. Although the Sixth Amendment does not explicitly articulate a right to self-representation, the right is implied by the Sixth Amendment’s language. Under the Amendment, ‘it is the accused, not counsel, who must be “informed of the nature and cause of the accusation,” who must be “confronted with the witnesses against him,” and who must be accorded “compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor.”’ Id. at 819, 95 S.Ct. 2525. In short, ‘the right to defend is given directly to the accused; for it is he who suffers the consequences if the defense fails.’ Id. at 819–20, 95 S.Ct. 2525.

The Right to Self-Representation is not Absolute

Even so, a defendant’s right to self-representation ‘is not absolute.’ United States v. Johnson, 610 F.3d 1138, 1144 (9th Cir. 2010). A district court ‘may terminate self-representation by a defendant who deliberately engages in serious and obstructionist misconduct,’ Faretta, 422 U.S. at 834 n.46, 95 S.Ct. 2525, or who is unable or unwilling ‘to abide by rules of procedure and courtroom protocol,’ Wiggins, 465 U.S. at 173, 104 S.Ct. 944.

Several cases illustrate this principle at work. For example, the right to self-representation may not be terminated even though a defendant ‘files numerous nonsensical pleadings, is uncooperative at times,’ insists ‘on wearing prison garb in front of the jury,’ and confusingly tells the jury that ‘he wants the jury to “enter a guilty plea”’ during opening statements. Johnson, 610 F.3d at 1143–44. Similarly, a defendant’s self-representation cannot be revoked merely because the defendant lacks familiarity ‘with the rules of evidence or the specifics of criminal procedure.’ United States v. Lopez-Osuna, 242 F.3d 1191, 1200 (9th Cir. 2000); see also Flewitt, 874 F.2d at 674–75 (holding that a defendant does not forfeit the right to represent himself by failing ‘to prepare properly for trial’ or filing ‘continual motions’ that are largely irrelevant). On the other hand, the right to self-representation can be terminated when a defendant engages in ‘heated discussions’ with the judge, threatens a juror such that the juror must be dismissed, and tells the jury something that the district court specifically ordered him not to disclose. United States v. Mack, 362 F.3d 597, 599 (9th Cir. 2004); see also Badger v. Cardwell, 587 F.2d 968, 971–73 (9th Cir. 1978) (affirming the removal of a pro se defendant from the courtroom after he engaged in ‘an increasingly heated dialogue’ with the judge, ‘raised a clenched fist’ at the judge, and ‘taunted the court to expel him’).

The Facts in this Case Do Not Support the District Court’s Termination of the Defendant’s Right of Self-Representation

When viewed in comparison to these cases, the facts here do not support the district court’s termination of Engel’s right to represent himself. Unlike the defendants in Mack and Badger, Engel was not defiant and did not engage in blatantly outrageous conduct, such as threatening a juror or taunting the district judge. To the contrary, Engel merely asked a question prejudicial to the government. When the government objected, Engel remained calm and ultimately acquiesced in the court’s decision to revoke his right to self-representation. He was never removed from the courtroom, nor did he need to be removed.

The Defendant’s Alleged Disobeying of a Prior Court Order

This conclusion is not undermined by the district court’s suggestion that Engel had disobeyed a ‘prior court order’ by asking whether Love was under criminal investigation. A defendant may forfeit the right to represent himself if he ‘fails to obey the rulings of the court.’ Flewitt, 874 F.2d at 673; see also Wiggins, 465 U.S. at 173, 104 S.Ct. 944 (noting that a self-represented defendant must be ‘able and willing to abide by rules of procedure and court protocol’). But it is not clear that Engel did violate a court order. The order to which the district court appears to be referring is an oral ruling denying a motion to compel Love to appear as a witness because questioning him about the events detailed in the report would be irrelevant. In that oral ruling, the court did not specifically address whether other witnesses could be asked about the investigation of Love. Perhaps it was implied that such questions should not be asked, but the order is not so unambiguous such that Engel’s conduct clearly violated it.

And even if Engel did violate that single order, that is insufficient to justify terminating his right to represent himself. Termination may be appropriate when the defendant has engaged in ‘severely disruptive behavior.’ Lopez-Osuna, 242 F.3d at 1200. Prior to this moment on the twenty-first day of trial, Engel appears to have complied with all the court’s orders. Indeed, the district court never previously had occasion to reprimand Engel for disobedience or threaten to revoke his right to represent himself. Had Engel repeatedly violated the court’s orders, that might be sufficiently disruptive to revoke his pro se status. But a single instance of disobedience that is unaccompanied by open defiance or disruption does not justify the termination of Engel’s constitutional right to self-representation without prior warning. Engel’s single question appears no more disruptive or obstructive than questions sometimes asked by counsel, to which opposing counsel would object. Had Engel’s own counsel asked a similar question, the district court would have sustained the objection and, most likely, admonished counsel. As a result, the district court’s action violated Engel’s Sixth Amendment right.

The District Court’s Error Was Not Cured by Permitting the Defendant to Present Argument

This violation was not cured by the fact that the termination of Engel’s right to represent himself was only for a limited time. The Sixth Amendment right to self-representation ‘applies at all critical stages’ of a criminal prosecution. United States v. Rice, 776 F.3d 1021, 1024 (9th Cir. 2015). George, the standby counsel appointed to represent Engel, cross-examined several of the government’s witnesses. The cross-examination of the prosecution’s witnesses at trial is clearly a critical stage. See United States v. Yamashiro, 788 F.3d 1231, 1234–35 (9th Cir. 2015) (‘A critical stage is any stage of a criminal proceeding where substantial rights of a criminal accused may be affected.’ (internal quotation marks omitted)). Thus, even though the district court reinstated Engel’s right to represent himself before closing arguments, Engel was precluded from cross-examining government witnesses, violating the Sixth Amendment.

Sympathy for the District Judge

We are sympathetic to the situation the district court faced. The risk of declaring a mistrial after twenty-one days of trial in a high-profile case with six co-defendants is a risk that ought to be avoided. But the Sixth Amendment guarantees a defendant’s right to represent himself. And that right can be revoked only when the defendant exhibits clearly defiant or obstructionist misconduct. Engel’s conduct here falls far short of that standard.

The Holding and the Result of the Case

We conclude that the district court’s termination of Engel’s right to represent himself violated the Sixth Amendment. A violation of a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to self-representation is structural error. See Wiggins, 465 U.S. at 177–79 & n.8, 104 S.Ct. 944; Rice, 776 F.3d at 1025 (‘The Supreme Court has found denial of the right of self-representation to be structural error because it deprives a defendant a fair chance to present his case in his own way.’ (internal quotation marks omitted)). Thus, we must vacate Engel’s criminal conviction and remand for a new trial.

Vacated and remanded.

My Thoughts

  • There are no Fifth Circuit cases after Weast on this issue.
  • From what I have seen over the years, the right to self-representation is most often the right to a speedy verdict of guilty.

Shout Outs

Congratulations to Kristin Brown, who got a reverse and render verdict of acquittal in Harper v. State, 05-19-00323-CR (Tex. App.—Dallas, July 16, 2020, no pet. h.). The case revolved around a tampering with evidence charge. Kristin argued there was insufficient evidence to show tampering or attempted tampering. Rather, the evidence showed her client was trying to dispossess himself of a single pill, alleged but not shown to be alprazolam.

Shoutout to Shana Stein, who received a reverse and remand for abuse of discretion in the Tenth Court of Appeals. Way to go!

Kudos to Charles Arnone, who was appointed to an appeal of an assault/family-violence case in which the client received a sentence of 15 years. The state confessed error adjudicating the case as a second-degree offense when it should have been third-degree, making the maximum sentence 10 years. Great work, Charlie!

Excellent work by Shea Place, who represented Joe Bryan before the Board of Pardons & Paroles. Mr. Bryan was wrongfully accused for the murder of his wife and spent more than 30 years in prison. Together with the Innocence Project of Texas and Allen Place, Shea successfully represented Mr. Bryan and got Mr. Bryan paroled. Awesome job!

Current Issue: July-August 2020

DOWNLOAD PDF VERSION

Features

19 | Cold Texting: The New Wave of Barratry – By Ed McClees & Mark Thiessen
24 | Law in the Time of Coronavirus – By TCDLA Members
28 | The Beginning of Lawyer-Assistance Programs – By Rick Wardroup
30 | The Impact of Criminal (Mis)Behavior on Country Music – By Charles S. Chambers
33 | A Message from TCDLA’s COVID-19 Response Task Force

Columns

6 | President’s Message
7 | Chief Executive Officer’s Perspective
9 | Staff Spotlight
10 | Editor’s Comment
12 | Ethics and the Law
14 | Federal Corner
18 | Shout Outs

Departments

5 | CLE Seminars and Meetings
34 | Significant Decisions Report

President’s Message: Judges Push Jury Trials During the Pandemic

Only one group of people seem anxious to re-open courthouses and start criminal trials again. It isn’t us, and it isn’t prosecutors. In conversations with elected District Attorneys all over the state, I have learned that prosecutors don’t want to risk their health, the safety of their communities, or having convictions overturned due to constitutional violations. 

The public isn’t banging down courthouse doors, either. Many prospective jurors are struggling with health concerns, unemployment, and the possibility that schools might partially or fully close this fall. Not to mention a growing unease as COVID-19 numbers bounce back and forth between disturbing and alarming.

It is not even the Texas Supreme Court, whose emergency orders regarding criminal matters reveal a granular misunderstanding of the differences between civil and criminal practice. 

It is Texas trial judges.

True, there are many judges who recognize that the health and constitutional perils of jury trials during the pandemic far outweigh the benefit of appearing to get back to normal. If you see judges and their staffs postponing cases, waiving court appearances and otherwise acting responsibly, be sure to thank them. Good judges and staffs don’t get nearly enough positive feedback when they do the right thing.  

But there is a rather large, vocal group of trial judges who are misreading their constituents and apparently have an inflated sense of self. Here is a harsh truth for them: Most voters don’t know who you are

If you were to walk the voting line on Election Day and ask people to name three judges in their area, most couldn’t do it. Further, if you were to ask voters about the size of a particular judge’s trial docket, most people would have no idea what you were talking about. Too many judges are disconnected from what the public wants or even knows about them. 

Perhaps most troubling is the false narrative that some judges are spreading to justify restarting trials. They claim it’s because their dockets are full of people — especially those languishing in jail — who are demanding trials because they want to have “their day in court.” With exceptions, that is mostly baloney. Prosecutors and defense attorneys agree that criminal cases tend to get weaker, not stronger, with the passage of time. 

But if judges are pushing pandemic trials out of genuine concern for the speedy trial rights of the accused, there is a simple solution. Grant every defense request for a jury trial continuance during the pandemic. Lawyers with clients who really want a fast trial won’t ask for postponements. Also, if a defendant is bondable but trapped in jail due to a high bond or the unconstitutional GA-13 Order from Gov. Greg Abbott, reduce the bond and let the person out.  

If there is a County or District Court judge anywhere in Texas who disagrees with what I’ve written and wants to talk about it, feel free to call my Houston office or the TCDLA home office at 512-478-2514 and ask for my cell number. Text me. 

But to any judge who pushes forward with a pandemic jury trial over a defense lawyer’s objection: If something goes wrong, you will own this. You have the power to avoid disaster, and your constituents look to you for leadership.

Chief Executive Officer’s Perspective: Working Together

“Diversity is about all of us, and about us having to figure out how to walk through this world together.”

-Jacqueline Woodson

There is just so much changing daily. We have the governor issuing so many executive orders, I can no longer keep up all of with them. As we continue with this new norm each day, we face how to continue with training, take part in court, and serve clients.

TCDLA is an organization of 3,400+, and we train more than 5,500 a year. Now is the time we need to have a strong united voice. We have several committees working on today’s current executive orders and the ongoing issues criminal defense attorneys face. We also have representatives meeting with the Supreme Court of Texas, OCA, and SBOT to fight for our member’s rights and protect the Sixth Amendment. If you are facing any of these issues, contact our chairs below or visit our COVID website, which we are always updating.

COVID-19 RESPONSE TASK FORCE

Co-Chairs
Allison Barbara Clayton,
Nicole DeBorde Hochglaube,

SUPREME COURT ORDERS ON PANDEMIC COURT PROCEEDINGS

Michael Gross,

We also have our lobbyists, Shea Place and Allen Place, fighting for our members. Shea regularly posts on the Legislative listserve. If you are not receiving the messages, contact TCDLA. The listserve is for informational purposes and not open for responses. You can email the Legislative team at .

Visit page 8. We are starting our second cohort for the Future Indigent Defense Leaders with partners Texas Indigent Defense Commission and the Harris County Public Defender’s Office. Reach out and welcome the new mentees to our TCDLA family.

Special thanks go to everyone who participated in our first-ever virtual Rusty Duncan. Kerri Anderson Donica and Course Directors John Convery, Deandra Grant, David Guinn, and Carmen Roe did an amazing job. I could not leave out your fabulous, hardworking staff – kudos! I was overwhelmed by the support and contributions our members gave to the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Educational Institute. Due to everyone’s generous support, we have scholarships available for our TCDLA seminars starting September 1, 2020. If you need more information for TCDLA seminar scholarships, email or call 512.478.2514.

We are continuing with Mindful Mondays once a month. The programs are meant to reenergize and give invaluable tools during these times. Our next quarterly event will be September 24-25, 2020, in Arlington. It is two events – Family Violence and Telling a Trial Story – attend both. You can attend in person or virtually. We will have our board meeting Saturday, September 26, 2020, to continue discussing strategies to protect our members and clients.

If you need anything or have questions, contact our office and we will get you to the right person. Together, we will figure it out and make it through this!

Editor’s Comment: The Grim Backdrop COVID-19 is Creating

I was talking to a good friend and colleague recently about the impact of COVID-19 on our local court system and criminal defense community. We were lamenting that, on the whole, we, the criminal defense lawyers, seem to be the only moving part in the process – going to and from the jail and courthouse to facilitate pleas (even if doing pleas via Zoom). It was a role we undertook, understanding it placed us at risk, as we, and our clients, were largely the only live and in-person components of the criminal justice system. And now, as was inevitable, the jails are experiencing a rash of COVID-19 cases. The anxiety we are experiencing is real and palpable. The backdrop this pandemic is creating is just as real.

Consider the impact of this constant hum of worry on someone struggling with substance abuse, where the very “triggers” for use might well be the stress and anxiety that are now constants for all of us. The unintended hardship COVID-19 is creating in our communities, especially for those struggling with substance use disorder, is impossible to ignore: inability to attend in-person AA/NA meetings; loss of jobs; loss of housing; isolation; working in less-than-safe conditions; finding treatment facilities that are able to take new patients; and many, many more. Telehealth is an answer to many of these problems, but it’s less than ideal given the importance of face-to-face connection, physical contact with others, and the role environment all play in therapeutic communication. As we all know and have experienced at this point, there is just no substitute for face-face connection – for actual eye contact with a person rather than starring at one’s reflection and the two-dimensional faces of others on a screen. 

Make no mistake, the economic and social conditions created by the pandemic are devastating, and the collateral impact of COVID-19 on those struggling with substance use disorder is real, and places serious impediments to the recovery of some. It is well-publicized that alcohol sales were up during the shut-down and have remained above normal. What we lack, presently, is data regarding illicit drug sales and drug use. It stands to reason though that drug use and sales have risen also in response to the uncertainty.

Thousands of people die each year in the US from drug overdose in a normal (re: non-pandemic) year. Over the last two decades, the number has grown close to 600,000 people who have been lost to drug overdose. The number of overdose deaths in the US for 2018 (the most recent year for which there are statistics) exceeds 67,000, according to the CDC. COVID-19 has far eclipsed that number but will-inevitably and directly increase the number of overdose-related deaths during this pandemic. The backdrop this pandemic is creating for those struggling with substance use disorder is real, and is scary.

August 31st is International Overdose Awareness Day. The goal of IOAD is to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of overdose deaths. It also acknowledges the grief felt by family and friends remembering those who have died or had a permanent injury as a result of drug overdose. That grief is real and should not be stigmatized. IOAD spreads the message that overdose death is entirely preventable. That is worth considering again: Unlike deaths from other diseases or viruses, deaths from drug overdose are 100 percent preventable.  

Maybe we can all do our part, however small, to help prevent an overdose. Let’s pick up the phone and call that client who may be struggling – not to talk about their case but just to talk to them, to check in with them and see if there is anything we can do to help them, to let them know you care. Talk to the client who has the state jail possession charge about their substance use. We all know odds are that it’s not the first time that person has used. Know the substance abuse resources in your area. Let’s be a lifeline to that person.

Ethics & The Law: Duty to Report Ethical Misconduct

/

Texas Rules of Disciplinary Conduct Rule 8.03(a) (2017-2018) obligates a knowing lawyer to do his/her duty and report an unethical prosecutor or that knowing lawyer will face “knowing withholding” charges, if caught.  See In re Himmel, 125 Ill.2d 531, 533 N.E.2d 790 (1988) (caught lawyer’s one-year suspension was not probated). 

Must A Lawyer Report Another Lawyer’s Misconduct?

Courts have spoken on that query. Regarding another “caught lawyer,” in In re Brigandi, 843 So.2d 1083, 1085-1086, 1088-1089 (La. 2003), the court said:

“Based on evidence developed in this investigation, the ODC concluded respondent was deliberately evasive in his earlier voluntary sworn statement to the ODC. It further determined he failed to report Mr. Cuccia’s misconduct.”

[*1086]  Following its investigation, the ODC instituted two counts of formal charges against respondent. In the first count, involving the Egana matter, the ODC primarily alleged a violation of Rules 1.5(f)(6) (failure to refund unearned advance fee and place disputed fees in trust), 1.15 (failure to promptly deliver client funds and make an accounting) and 1.16(d) (failure to protect client interests upon termination of representation by failing to surrender client papers and refund unearned advance fee) of the Rules of Professional Conduct. As to count two involving the Cuccia matter, the ODC asserted alleged violations of Rules 3.3(a) (lack of candor to tribunal), 3.4(c) (failure to comply with tribunal orders), 8.1(b) (failure to respond to a lawful demand for information from a disciplinary authority), 8.1(c) (failure to cooperate with the ODC in its investigation), 8.3 (failure to report professional misconduct), 8.4(a) (violating or attempting to violate the Rules of Professional Conduct), 8.4(c) [Pg 4] (engaging in conduct involving deceit, dishonesty, fraud, or misrepresentation), 8.4(d) (engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice) and 8.4(g) (failure to cooperate with the ODC) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.

In Count II, respondent’s actions may have caused no palpable harm to any clients, but violated the general duty imposed upon attorneys “to uphold the integrity of the bar.” Louisiana State Bar Ass’n v. Weysham, 307 So.2d 336 (La. 1975). Attorneys are often in the best position to witness the systemic harm to the legal profession from organized schemes of misconduct, such as solicitation, which might not be readily apparent to the general public. As a result, our professional rules impose an obligation on all members of the bar to report any misconduct they become aware of in the course of their practice. An attorney’s  [*1089]  failure to do so must be viewed as a serious offense.

Laurel Fedder, Current Development 2009-2010: Obstacles to Maintaining the Integrity of the Profession: Rule 8.3’s Ambiguity and Disciplinary Board Complacency, 23 Geo. J. Legal Ethics 571, 572, 580-581 (2010), said:

“On first read, the first three elements of Model Rule 8.3(a) appear potentially confusing, but further consideration shows that these elements – the violation requirement, the knowledge requirement, and the integrity requirement – make perceptible stipulations. *** Alleged violations of the duty to report fellow attorney misconduct are rarely prosecuted absent allegations of additional misconduct propagated by the reporting attorney. In re Himmel, a 1988 case out of Illinois, represents the first instance of attorney sanctioning based solely on a violation of the duty to report  [*581]  fellow attorney misconduct. Unfortunately, Himmel did not generate a trend; in the ten years following Himmel, only a single instance of attorney reprimand solely for violating Rule 8.3(a) occurred. Since then, the practice of pursuing reporting violations only when additional violations are alleged has continued. The Riehlmann court held the defendant in violation of both Rule 8.3(a) and Rule 8.4(d), and the Rule 8.3(a) violation was one of twelve violations the Brigandi defendant was charged with. Disciplinary boards’ failure to pursue allegations of reporting violations unless coupled with another offense gives attorneys the impression that the Model Rule, and its state variants, are inconsequential, thus disincentivizing compliance. If disciplinary boards expect attorneys to fulfill their responsibility to report misconduct, then the boards should fulfill their responsibility to take those reports seriously. The statement of Arizona ethics counsel Patricia A. Sallen substantiates the assertion of inadequate disciplinary board action: ‘During my years as a bar counsel, I don’t remember having even investigated an allegation that a lawyer violated Arizona’s Ethical Rule 8.3, which closely tracks Model Rule 8.3. I know I never prosecuted one.’ If the reporting rule is to be effective, disciplinary boards need to increase the attention they give to reports of its violation so as to convey to attorneys the importance of adhering to it.”                     

Thanks to Joseph Connors for this article.