defendants enjoy competing rights to counsel and
self-representation. As between these two rights, the default
is the right to counsel. To overcome the presumption in favor
of counsel, a defendant must first unequivocally request
self-representation. This prerequisite is not satisfied if a
defendant's desire to forfeit counsel is rooted in
frustration with counsel's need for a continuance.
Jerome Curry's prosecution for felony drug offenses, he
asked to represent himself. The court held a hearing at which
Mr. Curry repeatedly stated he had no choice but to forfeit
counsel because his attorney would not be ready to proceed
without a continuance. The qualifications attached to Mr.
Curry's request for self-representation constituted
equivocation. Accordingly, Mr. Curry's request for
self-representation was invalid, and the convictions
sustained thereafter must be reversed.
Curry was charged with two counts of possession of a
controlled substance. He was originally appointed counsel but
filed several pretrial motions pro se. Defense counsel
ultimately filed a motion on Mr. Curry's behalf,
requesting leave for Mr. Curry to proceed without counsel.
trial court addressed the motion to proceed without counsel
at a pretrial hearing. At the hearing, the court engaged Mr.
Curry in a lengthy discussion focused on whether Mr.
Curry's waiver of counsel was knowing, voluntary, and
intelligent. Throughout this discussion, Mr. Curry repeatedly
stated he had "no choice" but to represent himself
because he wanted to assert his right to a speedy trial.
See Verbatim Report of Proceedings (VRP) (May 7,
2015) at 4, 12, 19.
Curry explained he was frustrated because a change in
personnel at the office of public defense meant his attorney
would need a continuance. He stated:
[B]asically, I mean, if I've got to sit and wait until
the end of June, ... I mean, send me to prison or release me.
One of the two. I mean, I aint got time to sit here. I mean,
I have obligations on the streets. I'm losing my home.
And if I've got to lose my home, I might as well defend
Id. at 13. Mr. Curry stated that if his counsel
could be ready by an earlier date, he would have "no
problem" working with counsel. Id. at 14.
close of the hearing, the court asked if Mr. Curry's
decision to proceed without counsel was his "voluntary
and steadfast decision." Id. at 18. Mr. Curry
stated, "Well, it's not voluntary. . . . It's I
have no choice in the matter." Id. at 18-19.
The court then made the following inquiry:
THE COURT: Well, it's either your freewill choice of
doing this, or somehow there's been some pressure put on
you. And the only pressure I recall you saying is the time
pressure; that is, that you believe you don't have a
choice because you don't want an extension of the trial
date, since you have other affairs that you believe you need
to take care of. And you'd rather have an outcome quicker
rather than later on. That's what I understand you to
say. Is that accurate?
THE DEFENDANT: That's-that's accurate.
Id. at 19.
Mr. Curry confirmed the court's characterization of his
position, the court granted Mr. Curry's request for
self-representation. Approximately five weeks later, Mr.
Curry represented himself ...