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California: Right of Self-Representation May Be Restricted but Not Denied Based on Jailhouse Security Concerns

In a 5-2 decision, the California Supreme Court reversed the conviction and sentence of death imposed on a defendant who, while on capital trial for murdering two college students (see: People v. Butler (2009) 46 Cal.4th 847), was charged with stabbing to death a fellow jail prisoner. Based on the charge and defendant’s otherwise disruptive behavior, jail officials restricted defendant’s pro se privileges after the trial court had granted him his Sixth Amendment right to represent himself. Ultimately, those security-based restrictions led the trial court to conclude that the defendant could not adequately represent himself and hence to revoke his right of self-representation. The California Supreme Court held, in light of Faretta v. California (1975) 422 U.S. 806 and its progeny that this was an error, reversible per se. It rejected the dissent’s suggestion that “a demonstrably dangerous defendant may be denied his Sixth Amendment right of self-representation if reasonable security measures restrict his opportunity to prepare for trial,” finding that “[t ]here is no case that stands for that proposition.” See: People v. Butler (2009) 46 Cal.4th 847.

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Related legal case

People v. Butler