A defendant's Right to Represent themselves in Criminal Court

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The right to represent yourself in criminal court

Abraham Lincoln famously said “A person who represents himself has a fool for a client." Honest Abe was right. However, despite it being a bad idea, most people charged with a crime does enjoy the right to represent themselves.

This right is founded in the Sixth Amendment to the United State Constitution. In Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806, 819-821, 95 S.Ct. 2525, 2433-2534 (1975) the United States Supreme Court found that a defendant has the right to waive counsel and represent himself at trial. (Prior to the the United State Supreme Court's decision in Faretta, in Oklahoma a trial court's decision to not allow a defendant to represent himself was subject to an abuse of discretion standard.) However, since the Supreme Court's decision in Faretta, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has ruled a trial court can not deny a defendant's valid request to represent himself. (See Coleman v. State, 1980 OK CR 75, paragraph 4, 617 P.2d 243, 245 (Okla.Cr. 1980). In 2014, in an unpublished opinion, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals re-affirmed the right of a criminal defendant to represent himself "pro se" during a jury trial. (See Antonio Hall v. State, F-2013-845 (Unpublished Opinion))

Factors the Court considers in determining whether the request to represent oneself was valid

  1. Whether the defendant was competent to make the decision

  2. Whether the request for self-representation was clear and unequivocal

  3. Whether the defendant "knowingly and intelligently" waived the benefits of counsel, after being informed of the "dangers and disadvantages of self-representation."

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