State v. Braswell
A defendant's request to represent himself may not be denied based on the trial court's perception of the adequacy of trial counsel's representation. Following a jury trial, Velmon Braswell was convicted of kidnapping in the second degree and interfering with an officer. He appealed raising multiple claims, including that the trial court violated his state and federal constitutional rights to represent himself before and during trial and improperly denied his motion to suppress evidence collected from his home and person. The Appellate Court concluded that the court properly denied the motion to suppress evidence but erred by denying the defendant's motion to represent himself on improper grounds. The improper ruling was not subject to harmless error analysis. The judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for a new trial. The defendant clearly and unequivocally asserted his right to represent himself by filing a motion and addressing the court, stating that he wanted to represent himself. When a defendant seeks to represent himself, the court is required to canvas the defendant pursuant to Practice Book §44-3 to determine whether the defendant's waiver of the constitutional right to counsel is knowing and intelligent. The defendant's behavior demonstrated a lack of decorum; he was not present when his case was called and he threatened to be disruptive if he could not proceed pro se. The court had him brought into the courtroom and discussed his claimed conflict of interest with his attorney, Benjamin Aponte of the public defender's office, discovery issues and his speedy trial motion. The court attempted to canvass the defendant pursuant to Practice Book §44-3, but the defendant refused to answer certain questions. While, as the state contended, a defendant who is uncooperative and disruptive is not entitled to represent himself, here, the court denied the defendant's request to represent himself based on his relationship with counsel and the state of discovery. Those factors were not relevant to the defendant's motion because trial had not yet commenced. For the motion to suppress evidence seized without a warrant, the defendant failed to establish a reasonable expectation of privacy in the doorknob outside his apartment and exigent circumstances existed for evidence of the victim's DNA on the defendant's bloodied finger that the victim had bitten.