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State v. Holmes – Case Brief Summary (Tennessee)

In State v. Holmes, 302 S.W.3d 831, 833 (Tenn. 2010), the Supreme Court of Tennessee addressed the question whether the "trial court erred in ruling that an indigent defendant forfeited his right to counsel at trial by telling his appointed lawyer, 'I know how to get rid of you,' and, at a subsequent meeting, physically assaulting counsel."

After surveying the leading cases on the issue, the court held that such conduct did not rise to the level of "extremely serious misconduct" that would warrant a forfeiture of the right to counsel:

Though the individual facts vary widely, these cases make clear that a criminal defendant's constitutional right to the assistance of counsel is so fundamental, particularly at trial, that only the most egregious misbehavior will support a forfeiture of that right without warning and an opportunity to conform his or her conduct to an appropriate standard. (302 S.W.3d at 846.)