LOCATION: Superior Court of Los Angeles County, CA
DOCKET NO.: 73-5772
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court
CITATION: 422 US 806 (1975)
ARGUED: Nov 19, 1974
DECIDED: Jun 30, 1975
GRANTED: Mar 18, 1974
Howard J. Schwab - Deputy Attorney General of California, for the respondent
Jerome B. Falk, Jr. - for the petitioner, by appointment of the Court
Facts of the case
Anthony Pasquall Faretta was charged with grand theft. He filed a request to represent himself in the Superior Court of Los Angeles County. The judge initially accepted the request, but later called Faretta back in to question him about his knowledge of the hearsay rule and other court procedures. Based on Faretta’s answers, the judge determined that Faretta did not intelligently and knowingly waive his right to counsel and the judge appointed a public defender. The jury convicted Faretta. On appeal, the California Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court judge’s ruling that Faretta had no constitutional right to represent himself. The California Supreme Court denied review.
Can a defendant be denied the right to present his own defense and be forced to accept representation by counsel?
Media for Faretta v. CaliforniaAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 19, 1974 in Faretta v. California
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 30, 1975 in Faretta v. California
Warren E. Burger:
The judgment and opinions -- judgments and opinions of the Court in two cases, 73-5772, Faretta against California, and 73-6587, Herring against New York will be announced by Mr. Justice Stewart.
The first of these cases, Faretta against the State of California is here by way of a writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals of California for the Second Appellate District.
The Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments of our Constitution guarantee that a person brought to trial in any state or federal court must be afforded the right to the assistance of counsel before he can be validly convicted and punished by imprisonment.
The question before us in the present case is whether a defendant in a state criminal trial has a constitutional right to proceed without counsel when he voluntarily and intelligently elects to do so.
Stated another way, the question is whether a State may constitutionally hale a person into its criminal courts and there force a lawyer upon him, even when he insists that he wants to conduct his own defense.
It is not an easy question.
Anthony Faretta was charged with grand theft in an information filed in the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, California.
At the arraignment, the Judge assigned to preside at the trial appointed the public defender to represent Faretta.
Well before the date of trial, however, Faretta requested that he be permitted to represent himself.
In accordance with a then recent California Supreme Court decision, the judge ruled that Faretta had constitutional right to conduct his own defense.
Throughout the subsequent trial, the judge required that Faretta's defense be conducted only through the appointed lawyer from the public defender's office.
At the conclusion of the trial, the jury found Faretta guilty as charged, and the judge sentenced him to prison.
The California Court of Appeal, affirmed the trial judge's ruling that Faretta had no federal or state constitutional right to represent himself.
Accordingly, the appellate court affirmed Faretta's conviction.
The California Supreme Court denied review.
And we granted certiorari.
In a rather lengthy written opinion filed today, we review the previous dicta of this Court concerning the question now before us.
The decisions of state courts and Federal Court of Appeals, the structure of the Sixth Amendment and the English and colonial legal history from which that Amendment emerged.
This review leads we think inexorably to the conclusion that under our constitution, a person does have a right to conduct his own defense in a state criminal trial if he insist upon doing so.
It is worth noting that in the long history of British, colonial, and American criminal law, there was only one tribunal that ever adopted the practice of forcing a lawyer upon an unwilling defendant in a criminal proceeding.
That tribunal was the Star Chamber.
There can be no blinking the fact that the right of an accused to conduct his own defense seems to cut against the grain of this Court's decisions holding that the constitution requires that no accused can be convicted and imprisoned unless he has been accorded the right to the assistance of counsel.
For it is surely true that the basic thesis of those decisions is that the help of a lawyer is essential to assure the defendant a fair trial.
And a strong argument can surely be made that the whole thrust of those decisions must inevitably lead to the conclusion that a State may constitutionally impose a lawyer upon even an unwilling defendant.
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.
It is undeniable that in most criminal prosecutions defendants could better defend with counsel's guidance than by their own unskilled efforts.
But where the defendant will not voluntarily accept representation by counsel, the potential advantage of a lawyer's training and experience can be realized, if at all, only imperfectly.
To force a lawyer on a defendant can only lead him to believe that the law contrives against him.