Defendants Who Refuse Appointed Counsel but Do Not Provide Their Own Counsel Are Presumed to Be Exercising Their Right to Self-Representation
In Weaver v. State, 894 So. 2d 178, 191 (Fla. 2004), Weaver argued on appeal that his request to proceed pro se was not unequivocal and that the trial court thus erred in allowing Weaver to represent himself.
This Court rejected Weaver's argument and held that Weaver's request to proceed pro se was indeed unequivocal.
Except for the trial court's ruling on the request to proceed pro se, the relevant facts of Weaver closely parallel the facts here.
Weaver initially sought appointment of new counsel because of a disagreement between Weaver and his counsel regarding which defense to present to the jury.
The trial court conducted a Nelson hearing but concluded that counsel was effective and thus Weaver was not entitled to substitute counsel if he discharged his current counsel. Id.
The trial court then asked Weaver whether he wanted to keep his current counsel or discharge him.
The trial court then stated:
Because if you do not want current counsel to represent you, this Court would not be in a position to appoint you another attorney . . . . If you can afford an attorney of your own, you have that right to retain private counsel. and if you decide not to have current counsel represent you, then you will need to determine whether or not you are competent yourself to represent yourself in this matter. Id. at 191-92 (second alteration in original).
At that point, "Weaver reiterated that he could not proceed with current counsel's defense and did not want current counsel's assistance if it meant proceeding with the second-degree murder defense." Id. at 192. After determining that Weaver could not afford a private attorney, the trial court conducted a Faretta inquiry and concluded that Weaver was knowingly and intelligently waiving his right to appointed counsel. Id. at 192-93.
In upholding the trial court's determination that Weaver's request to represent himself was unequivocal, this Court explained:
Weaver decided to discharge counsel even though the court found that counsel was providing effective and competent counsel.
A defendant who persists in discharging competent counsel after being informed that he is not entitled to substitute counsel is presumed to be unequivocally exercising his right to self-representation. Id. at 193.
See also id. at 191 ("If no reasonable basis appears for a finding of ineffective representation, the trial court should so state on the record and advise the defendant that if he discharges his original counsel, the court may not thereafter be required to appoint a substitute.
If the defendant continues to demand dismissal of his court-appointed counsel, the trial judge may in his discretion discharge counsel and require the defendant to proceed to trial without representation."); Jones v. State, 449 So. 2d 253, 258 (Fla. 1984) ("Defendant persistently demanded that to which he was not entitled-counsel of his choice provided by the state.
As a matter of guidance, defendants who without good cause refuse appointed counsel but do not provide their own counsel are presumed to be exercising their right to self-representation.").