STATE v. VELMON DANNY BRASWELL, SC 19230

Judicial District of Stamford-Norwalk

 

†††† Criminal; Right to Self-Representation; Whether Appellate Court Properly Determined that Denial of Defendantís Request to Represent Himself was Improper and, if so, Whether Error was Structural.† The defendant was charged with kidnapping and with interfering with an officer.† He filed a pretrial motion to dismiss his counsel and to represent himself.† At the hearing on that motion, defense counsel informed the trial court that the defendant had threatened that, if not allowed to represent himself, he would be disruptive.† The defendant stated that he did not believe that his attorney was spending enough time on his case and that he did not trust him.† The defendant also complained that he had not received certain discovery materials that he had requested.† The trial court began to canvass the defendant regarding his decision to waive his right to counsel, but it was unable to complete the canvass because the defendant refused to answer certain questions about a prior criminal action against him.† The court denied the motion, stating that it had no basis for finding that defense counsel was not spending enough time on the case.† The court added that it would address the defendantís discovery complaint by creating a strict time line for the state to get discovery materials to defense counsel.† The defendant was convicted and he appealed, claiming that the trial court violated his constitutional right to self-representation.† The Appellate Court (145 Conn. App. 617) remanded the case for a new trial, finding that the trial court denied the defendantís motion to represent himself on improper grounds.† The court noted that the law dictates that when, as here, a defendant presents a clear and unequivocal motion to represent himself, the trial court must canvass the defendant pursuant to Practice Book ß 44-3 to determine whether he is knowingly and intelligently waiving his right to counsel and then base its discretionary ruling on the defendantís responses. †The Appellate Court held that, here, the trial courtís ruling was not based on the criteria set forth in ß 44-3, but rather on its assessment of counselís performance and the state of discovery.† The Appellate Court rejected the stateís argument that the defendant was not entitled to a full and complete canvass pursuant to ß 44-3 because he was uncooperative and disruptive, noting that the record did not show that the defendant acted disruptively on the day the trial court was first presented with his motion to represent himself. †Finally, the court held that a violation of the sixth amendment right to self-representation constitutes a structural error which is not subject to harmless error analysis and which requires automatic reversal of the conviction.† The Supreme Court granted the state certification to appeal.† It will decide whether the Appellate Court properly determined that the trial courtís denial of the defendantís request to represent himself was improper and, if so, whether the Appellate Court was correct in determining that the courtís denial constituted structural error.†