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Texas Court of Appeals: No Law Library Access Right for Prisoner Who Waives Appointed Counsel

Texas Court of Appeals: No Law Library Access Right for Prisoner
Who Waives Appointed Counsel

By Matt Clarke

On April 30, 2008, a Texas court of appeals ruled that a prisoner who waived his right to counsel in a criminal case has no right of access to a law library.

Roderick K. Johnson, a Texas state prisoner, was convicted of burglary after he represented himself at trial. While in the Harrison County Jail, Johnson was appointed counsel. He nonetheless filed numerous pro se motions, some of which noted his dissatisfaction with his appointed attorney and one of which requested that he be given access to a law library and allowed to proceed pro se. He was granted the right to proceed pro se, but later recanted that right and, with assistance of the same appointed attorney, accepted a plea bargain. He appealed, alleging that the trial court erred by: (1) setting the case for trial only ten days after allowing Johnson to proceed pro se, (2) denying his motion for continuance and (3) refusing him access to the jail’s law library.

The court of appeals held that Johnson had no right of access to a law library after turning down appointed counsel. He had a right of access to a law library or to have counsel appointed. “[I]f he rejects the offer of appointed counsel, he is not then entitled to access to a law library.” The court of appeals also held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Johnson’s motion for continuance because it was not in proper form and was presented only five days before trial. The trial court also did not err in allowing Johnson only ten days before trial after allowing him to proceed pro se because the trial had already been set and Johnson was the one who waited until ten days before trial to insist on dismissing appointed counsel and proceeding pro se. The judgment was affirmed. See: Johnson v. State, 257 S.W.3d 778 (Tex.App.-Texarkana 2008).

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Related legal case

Johnson v. State