Can a State Deny Right of Self-representation to Defendant Whose Mental Fitness is in the ''Gray Area'' ?
A state may not constitutionally "force a lawyer upon" a defendant who voluntarily and intelligently elects to proceed in a criminal case without counsel. (Faretta v. California (1975) 422 U.S. 806 at p. 807.) However, "the right of self-representation is not absolute." (Indiana v. Edwards (2008) 554 U.S. 164, 171, 128 S. Ct. 2379, 171 L. Ed. 2d 345.)
In Edwards, the Supreme Court considered the "gray area" between the "minimal constitutional requirement that measures a defendant's ability to stand trial and a somewhat higher standard that measures mental fitness for another legal purpose." (Id. at p. 172.)
The question at issue was whether a state could deny the right of self-representation at trial to a defendant whose mental fitness was in the gray area. (Id. at pp. 173-174.)
The court ruled that a state could do so: "The Constitution permits States to insist upon representation by counsel for those competent enough to stand trial . . . but who still suffer from severe mental illness to the point where they are not competent to conduct trial proceedings by themselves." (Id. at p. 178.)
In People v. Johnson (2012) 53 Cal.4th 519, the California Supreme Court concluded that "California courts may deny self-representation when Edwards permits." (Id. at p. 525.)