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U.S. Supreme Court: Faretta Does Not Establish Right Of Pro Se Defendant to Law Library Access

U.S. Supreme Court: Faretta Does Not Establish Right Of Pro Se Defendant
to Law Library Access

In a per curiam ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit's grant of habeas relief (Espitia v. Ortiz, 113 Fed. Appx. 802 (2004)) to a California prisoner who, after choosing to represent himself at trial per Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806 (1975), complained that he was prejudicially denied his right of access to the courts by his denial of law library access in county jail.

The Supreme Court recognized a split in the circuits as to pre-conviction law library access, but declined to reach the merits of whether a Faretta pro per litigant has in fact such a right. The Court only disagreed with the Ninth Circuit's holding that Faretta had established such a right, noting that Faretta says nothing about any specific legal aid that the State owes a pro se criminal defendant." Since Espitia was prevented by the AEDPA from bringing a 28 U.S.C. § 2254 habeas action absent a pre-existing U.S. Supreme Court ruling on point (§ 2254(d)(1)), habeas relief was procedurally unavailable. Accordingly, the Court reversed the Ninth Circuit and remanded for further proceedings consistent with the Court's opinion. See: Kane v. Espitia, 126 S.Ct. 407 (2005).

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Related legal case

Kane v. Espitia

Kane v. Espitia, 126 S.Ct. 407, 163 L.Ed.2d 10 (U.S. 10/31/2005)


[2] No. 04-1538

[3] 126 S.Ct. 407, 163 L.Ed.2d 10, 2005 Daily Journal D.A.R. 12,851, 74 USLW 3266, 74 USLW 3270, 2005

[4] October 31, 2005


[6] On petition for writ of Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Ninth Circuit

[7] Per curiam.

[8] 546 U. S. ____ (2005)

[9] Respondent Garcia Espitia, a criminal defendant who chose to proceed pro se, was convicted in California state court of carjacking and other offenses. He had received no law library access while in jail before trial -- despite his repeated requests and court orders to the contrary -- and only about four hours of access during trial, just before closing arguments. (Of course, he had declined, as was his right, to be represented by a lawyer with unlimited access to legal materials.) The California courts rejected his argument that his restricted library access violated his Sixth Amendment rights. Once his sentence became final, he petitioned in Federal District Court for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U. S. C. §2254. The District Court denied relief, but the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that "the lack of any pretrial access to lawbooks violated Espitia's constitutional right to represent himself as established by the Supreme Court in Faretta [v. California, 422 U. S. 806 (1975)]." Garcia Espitia v. Ortiz, 113 Fed. Appx. 802, 804 (2004). The warden's petition for certiorari and respondent's motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis are granted, the judgment below reversed, and the case remanded.

[10] A necessary condition for federal habeas relief here is that the state court's decision be "contrary to, or involv[e] an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States." 28 U. S. C. §2254(d)(1). Neither the opinion below, nor any of the appellate cases it relies on, identifies a source in our case law for the law library access right other than Faretta. See 113 Fed. Appx., at 804 (relying on Bribiesca v. Galaza, 215 F. 3d 1015, 1020 (CA9 2000) (quoting Milton v. Morris, 767 F. 2d 1443, 1446 (CA9 1985)); ibid. ("Faretta controls this case").

[11] The federal appellate courts have split on whether Faretta, which establishes a Sixth Amendment right to self-representation, implies a right of the pro se defendant to have access to a law library. Compare Milton, supra, with United States v. Smith, 907 F. 2d 42, 45 (CA6 1990) ("[B]y knowingly and intelligently waiving his right to counsel, the appellant also relinquished his access to a law library"); United States ex rel. George v. Lane, 718 F. 2d 226, 231 (CA7 1983) (similar). That question cannot be resolved here, however, as it is clear that Faretta does not, as §2254(d)(1) requires, "clearly establis[h]" the law library access right. In fact, Faretta says nothing about any specific legal aid that the State owes a pro se criminal defendant. The Bribiesca court and the court below therefore erred in holding, based on Faretta, that a violation of a law library access right is a basis for federal habeas relief.

[12] The judgment below is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

[13] It is so ordered.