State v. Boykin – Case Brief Summary (South Carolina)

In State v. Boykin, 324 S.C. 552, 478 S.E.2d 689 (S.C. App. 1996), Boykin threatened and verbally abused his court-appointed counsel one time when the attorney visited him in jail. After conducting a hearing, the trial court allowed the attorney to withdraw based on that episode, and refused to appoint substitute counsel. Boykin, proceeding pro se, was convicted of armed robbery. He appealed, arguing that the trial court had erred in allowing his appointed counsel to withdraw without appointing replacement counsel.

The South Carolina Court of Appeals reversed. It reviewed in detail the three common scenarios in which a defendant may relinquish his or her right to counsel:

First, a defendant may waive his Sixth Amendment right to counsel. A waiver is an intentional and voluntary relinquishment of a known right. The most common method of waiving a right is by an affirmative, verbal request. The Supreme Court has held that a waiver of the right to counsel must be knowing, voluntary, and intelligent. The defendant must be informed on the record of the dangers and disadvantages of self-representation, or the record must indicate the defendant had sufficient background to understand the disadvantages of self-representation before he waives his right to counsel.

A defendant may also waive his right to counsel through his conduct. Once a defendant has been warned that his misconduct will thereafter be treated as a waiver of his right to counsel, any subsequent misconduct is treated as a "waiver by conduct." Most courts have held there can be no "waiver by conduct" unless the defendant is first warned of the consequences of his actions. . . .

Finally, some courts have held a defendant may forfeit his Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Forfeiture results in the loss of the right regardless of the defendant's knowledge of either the consequences of his actions or the dangers of self-representation. "Because of the drastic nature of the sanction, forfeiture would appear to require extremely dilatory conduct. On the other hand, a 'waiver by conduct' could be based on conduct less severe than that sufficient to warrant a forfeiture." While a number of courts have recognized the existence of forfeiture of right to counsel, only two courts have held a defendant's conduct serious enough to warrant a forfeiture, particularly in the absence of any prior warning by the court. (478 S.E.2d at 690-91.)

The court then concluded that the trial court's ruling could not be upheld:

In the present case, the record shows Boykin was not warned of the consequences of his actions, nor of the dangers inherent in self-representation. Because waiver implies the intentional relinquishment of a known right, Boykin could not have waived his right to counsel, either expressly or by his conduct. The issue, then, is whether this state will recognize forfeiture of the right to counsel and whether Boykin's actions were so severe as to constitute a forfeiture.

Although we do not condone Boykin's actions, we do not believe they were so severe as to permanently deprive him of appointed counsel. Both cases which have held a defendant forfeited his right to counsel involved a course of conduct more egregious than the single incident alleged here. Accordingly, we need not decide whether South Carolina should embrace the doctrine of forfeiture because we find that Boykin's conduct in the one event related by his counsel was not sufficient to constitute forfeiture. (Id. at 692.)