Indiana v. Edwards - Oral Argument - March 26, 2008

Indiana v. Edwards

Media for Indiana v. Edwards

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 19, 2008 in Indiana v. Edwards

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 26, 2008 in Indiana v. Edwards

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

We'll hear argument first today in Case 07-208, Indiana versus Edwards.

Mr. Fisher.

Thomas M. Fisher:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court: The trial court was justified in requiring a higher level of competency for self representation in order to prevent the trial of Ahmad Edwards from descending into a farce.

Indeed, self representation where a defendant cannot communicate coherently with the jury or the court would defeat the very autonomy interests that the Court ventured to protect in Faretta.

Antonin Scalia:

But why is it necessary to have a special rule in order to prevent the trial from descending into a farce?

Why couldn't you simply apply the same rule of competency that you apply for whether the defendant can be tried, and then if in fact his self representation begins to turn the trial into a farce surely the court would have the power to prohibit his further self representation.

Certainly, turning a trial into a farce is a basis for the court's action; no?

Thomas M. Fisher:

Well, I certainly hope so.

And I think on the record we've got here the trial court did not need to wait for that to happen.

If the trial had begun with Mr. Edwards representing himself with the jury present, and the trial had then become so unwieldy and so farcical and such a mockery that he had... his right of self representation had to be overridden, I think there would have been a problem, a possible problem of taint with the jury.

I think that the court was justified, having seen Mr. Edwards in court--

Antonin Scalia:

The problem with taint would be his own fault.

I can't imagine that he would success on appeal claiming he tainted the jury.

And the advantage of waiting is that by waiting to see if in fact he will turn the trial into a farce you avoid the risk of depriving him of his right to represent himself, which is certainly a very important constitutional right.

Why didn't you wait to see whether he's going to be able to pull it off or not?

Thomas M. Fisher:

--I don't think that Mr. Edwards's sort of waiver by conduct in that context is the only thing to consider.

I think that the State's interests in having a proceeding that proceeds smoothly without episodes that render the proceedings potentially a mockery also are strong.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

As you understand the Respondent's position... and perhaps the question is better addressed to the Respondent.

But as you understand their position, would they accept Justice Scalia's formulation of what the rule ought to be or the formulation that his question proposed?

Thomas M. Fisher:

You know, it's not clear to me that they would.

It seems to me that their position is much more focused on the metes and bounds of what Faretta specifically recognized, which was requiring the defendant to comply with the rules and if there is a disorderly kind of behavior that would be sufficient.

But I don't read their position to be that someone who is lacking in communications skills and coherent communications skills even on the record in the trial would be someone whose right of self representation could be overridden.

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

What would happen if you started out with pro se representation and then the trial turned into a farce?

Start over again, but he would have to accept counsel at that point?

Thomas M. Fisher:

Well, it seems to me that we're in a world here where we don't really know what the precise rules would be because of the lack of clarity for the trial courts.

So I don't want to tell you exactly what the Indiana courts would do, but I would imagine that a trial judge would be faced with a decision based on how long the trial has gone on, what the level of complexity of the trial is, what the level of farce or taint could be for the jury.

Antonin Scalia:

Well, there must be precedents.

I'm sure under the old rule, if I can recall it the old rule, where you have a single standard for both the right to be tried... the... the ability to be tried and the right to represent yourself, there must have been instances in which the person who was representing himself was unable to cope and the trial was... was turning into a farce.

There must have been instances.

What did they do?