Right of Self-representation - Historical Background
In Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806 (1975), the United States Supreme Court concluded that the Sixth Amendment of the federal constitution guarantees a competent defendant the right of self-representation. The Court examined the origins of this right and found its roots in colonial and English legal history. See id. at 829-33.
The Court found that in the history of British criminal jurisprudence, there was only one tribunal that ever adopted a practice of forcing an attorney upon an unwilling defendant-the infamous Star Chamber of the 16th and 17th centuries. See id.
Of course, the Star Chamber has since been recognized as an institution which completely disregarded basic individual rights.
After the Star Chamber was abolished, the trials at English common law normally consisted of an oral argument between counsel for the Crown and the defendant. See id.
The right to public assistance of counsel was developed much later. Thus, during the very first trials at common law, the notion of representation at trial only consisted of self-representation. See id.
When public counsel did become available, it was viewed as "a choice between representation by counsel and the traditional practice of self-representation." Id. at 825.
In fact, during this country's colonial period, "even where counsel was permitted, the general practice continued to be self-representation." Id. at 828.
"The right to counsel was clearly thought to supplement the primary right of the accused to defend himself . . . " Id. at 829-30.
Given this background, the Supreme Court made the following observations:
The language and spirit of the Sixth Amendment contemplate that counsel, like the other defense tools guaranteed by the Amendment, shall be an aid to a willing defendant--not an organ of the State interposed between an unwilling defendant and his right to defend himself personally. To thrust counsel upon the accused, against his considered wish, thus violates the logic of the Amendment. In such a case, counsel is not an assistant, but a master; and the right to make a defense is stripped of the personal character upon which the Amendment insists. It is true that when a defendant chooses to have a lawyer manage and present his case, law and tradition may allocate to the counsel the power to make binding decisions of trial strategy in many areas. This allocation can only be justified, however, by the defendant's consent, at the outset, to accept counsel as his representative. An unwanted counsel "represents" the defendant only through a tenuous and unacceptable legal fiction. Unless the accused has acquiesced in such representation, the defense presented is not the defense guaranteed him by the Constitution, for, in a very real sense, it is not his defense.
. . . .
But it is one thing to hold that every defendant, rich or poor, has the right to the assistance of counsel, and quite another to say that a State may compel a defendant to accept a lawyer he does not want. The value of state-appointed counsel was not unappreciated by the Founders, yet the notion of compulsory counsel was utterly foreign to them. And whatever else may be said of those who wrote the Bill of Rights, surely there can be no doubt that they understood the inestimable worth of free choice.
. . . To force a lawyer on a defendant can only lead him to believe that the law contrives against him. Moreover, it is not inconceivable that in some rare instances, the defendant might in fact present his case more effectively by conducting his own defense. Personal liberties are not rooted in the law of averages. The right to defend is personal. The defendant, and not his lawyer or the State, will bear the personal consequences of a conviction. It is the defendant, therefore, who must be free personally to decide whether in his particular case counsel is to his advantage. And although he may conduct his own defense ultimately to his own detriment, his choice must be honored out of "that respect for the individual which is the lifeblood of the law." (Id. at 820-21, 833-34.)