Lemke v. Commonwealth

In Lemke v. Commonwealth, 218 Va. 870, 873, 241 S.E.2d 789, 791 (1978), the Supreme Court of Virginia held that the trial court erred in requiring Lemke to proceed to trial without counsel. Lemke had appealed her district court conviction to the circuit court. Id. at 871, 241 S.E.2d at 790. She signed an appeal form indicating that she was obligated to hire an attorney promptly and that her "'failure to employ an attorney until just before the trial is not grounds for a continuance.'" Id. at 871, 241 S.E.2d at 790. Lemke attempted to hire counsel several days prior to her trial in the circuit court but was unsuccessful. Id. The trial court denied her motion for a continuance and tried her without counsel. Id. The record did not indicate whether the trial court had determined that Lemke was ineligible for court-appointed counsel. Id. at 873, 241 S.E.2d at 791. The Supreme Court wrote, "Her actions in twice approaching the attorney of her choice were not actions characteristic of a person who did not wish to be represented at trial." Id. at 874, 241 S.E.2d at 791. In finding the trial court committed error, the Supreme Court held: Trial courts are fully justified in taking stern measures to eliminate the frustrations of unnecessary or intentional delays caused by defendants in criminal appeals from the General District Courts. Such defendants must not be permitted to trifle with the courts or impede the administration of justice . . . . Nor does the evidence establish that Lemke acted in bad faith in appearing for trial without an attorney and moving for a continuance. Although the representations made to the court by the attorney whom she sought to employ were not entirely consistent with Lemke's own statements, they showed that she had made an effort during the week before trial to obtain the services of counsel. It thus appears that she wished to be represented by an attorney. Id. at 874, 241 S.E.2d at 791-92.