MCKASKLE V. WIGGINS, 465 U. S. 168 (1984)

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U.S. Supreme Court

McKaskle v. Wiggins, 465 U.S. 168 (1984)

McKaskle v. Wiggins

No. 82-1135

Argued November 9, 1983

Decided January 23, 1984

465 U.S. 168


At his state robbery trial, respondent was permitted to proceed pro se, but the trial court appointed standby counsel to assist him. Before and during the trial, respondent frequently changed his mind regarding the standby counsel's role, objecting to counsel's participation on some occasions but agreeing to it on other occasions. Following his conviction, respondent unsuccessfully moved for a new trial on the ground that his standby counsel had unfairly interfered with his presentation of his defense. After exhausting direct appellate and state habeas corpus review, respondent filed a habeas petition in Federal District Court, claiming that standby counsel's conduct deprived him of his right to present his own defense, as guaranteed by Faretta v. California, 422 U. S. 806. The District Court denied the petition, but the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that respondent's Sixth Amendment right of self-representation was violated by the unsolicited participation of overzealous standby counsel.

Held: Respondent's Sixth Amendment right to conduct his own defense was not violated, since it appears that he was allowed to make his own appearances as he saw fit, and that his standby counsel's unsolicited involvement was held within reasonable limits. Pp. 465 U. S. 173-187.

(a) The Counsel Clause of the Sixth Amendment implies a right in the defendant to conduct his own defense, with assistance at what is his, not counsel's, trial. Here, the record reveals that respondent was accorded the rights of a pro se defendant to control the organization and conduct of his own defense, to make motions, to argue points of law, to participate in voir dire, to question witnesses, and to address the court and the jury at appropriate points in the trial. Pp. 465 U. S. 173-175.

(b) The objectives of affirming a pro se defendant's dignity and autonomy and of allowing the presentation of what may be his best possible defense can both be achieved without categorically silencing standby counsel. In determining whether a defendant's Faretta rights have been respected, the primary focus must be on whether he had a fair chance to present his case in his own way. Such rights, however, do impose limits on the extent of standby counsel's unsolicited participation.

Page 465 U. S. 169

First, the pro se defendant is entitled to preserve actual control over the case he chooses to present to the jury, and, second, standby counsel's participation without the defendant's consent should not be allowed to destroy the jury's perception that the defendant is representing himself. Pp. 465 U. S. 176-179.

(c) The appearance of a pro se defendant's self-representation will not be undermined by standby counsel's participation outside the jury's presence. In this case, most of the incidents of which respondent complains occurred when the jury was not in the courtroom, and, while some of those incidents were regrettable, counsel's participation fully satisfied the first limitation noted above. Respondent was given ample opportunity to present his own position to the court on every matter discussed, and all conflicts between respondent and counsel were resolved in respondent's favor. Pp. 465 U. S. 179-181.

(d) It is when standby counsel participate in the jury's presence that a defendant may legitimately claim that excessive involvement by counsel will destroy the appearance that the defendant is acting pro se. Nevertheless, a categorical bar on counsel's participation is unnecessary. Here, where respondent's pro se efforts were undermined primarily by his own changes of mind regarding counsel's role, it is very difficult to determine how much of counsel's participation was, in fact, contrary to respondent's desires. If a defendant is given the opportunity and elects to have counsel appear before the court or a jury, his complaints concerning counsel's subsequent unsolicited participation lose much of their force. Once a pro se defendant invites or agrees to any substantial participation by counsel, subsequent appearances by counsel must be presumed to be with the defendant's acquiescence, at least until the defendant expressly and unambiguously renews his request that standby counsel be silenced. Pp. 465 U. S. 181-183.

(e) A defendant's Sixth Amendment rights are not violated when a trial judge appoints standby counsel -- even over the defendant's objection -- to relieve the judge of the need to explain and enforce basic rules of courtroom protocol or to assist the defendant in overcoming routine obstacles that stand in the way of his achievement of his own clearly indicated goals. At respondent's trial, a significant part of standby counsel's participation involved such basic procedures, and none interfered with respondent's control over his defense or undermined his appearance before the jury in the status of a pro se defendant. Pp. 465 U. S. 183-185.

(f) Aside from standby counsel's participation that was either approved by respondent or attendant to routine clerical or procedural matters, counsel's unsolicited comments in front of the jury were not substantial or frequent enough to have seriously undermined respondent's

Page 465 U. S. 170

appearance before the jury in the status of representing himself. Pp. 465 U. S. 185-187.

681 F.2d 266, reversed.

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and POWELL, REHNQUIST, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., concurred in the result. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 465 U. S. 188.

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