McKaskle v. Wiggins

PETITIONER: Dan V. McKaskle, Acting Director of the Texas Department of Corrections
RESPONDENT: Carl Edwin Wiggins
LOCATION: San Antonio, Texas

DOCKET NO.: 82-1135
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 465 US 168 (1984)
ARGUED: Nov 09, 1983
DECIDED: Jan 23, 1984
GRANTED: Feb 22, 1983

Craig Smyser - on behalf of Respondent
Leslie A. Benitez - on behalf of Petitioner

Facts of the case

On January 17, 1972, Carl Edwin Wiggins robbed a Piggly Wiggly store in San Antonio. He was convicted of robbery and sentenced to life in prison, but his conviction was set aside due to a faulty indictment. At the first trial, Wiggins waived his right to counsel. On April 16, 1973, about two months before his second trial was set to begin, Wiggins filed a request for counsel and rescinded his earlier waiver. His feelings toward his standby counsel remained volatile throughout the trial. Wiggins was convicted in his second trial. He moved for a new trial and argued that his standby counsel interfered with his defense, but the court denied the motion. After he exhausted direct appellate and state habeas relief, Wiggins petitioned for federal habeas relief in district court. The district court denied his petition, but the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed.


Does the presence of standby counsel violate a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to represent himself?

Media for McKaskle v. Wiggins

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 09, 1983 in McKaskle v. Wiggins

Warren E. Burger:

Ms. Benitez, you may proceed when you are ready.

Leslie A. Benitez:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

This case is pending before the Court on the petition of Texas to review a decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit granting federal habeas corpus relief.

The sole issue involved herein is whether a criminal defendant who invokes his Faretta v. California right of self-representation suffers a constitutional deprivation if standby counsel intermittently participates in the trial proceedings.

I will first briefly discuss the facts of the case and the holdings of the court below and then will urge the Court to reject the holding of the Fifth Circuit that when a defendant invokes his constitutional right of self-representation, standby counsel must in all circumstances be seen and not heard.

Respondent's first trial was in San Antonio, Texas in January of 1973.

He was convicted and received a life sentence.

His conviction, however, was reversed due to a defective indictment.

His second trial, and that which is the subject of the instant proceedings, occurred in June 1973.

Again, Respondent was convicted and received a life sentence.

At this trial Respondent chose to proceed pro se and represent himself.

The trial court, however, over Respondent's objections, appointed standby counsel.

The record reflects that standby counsel participated intermittently in the trial proceedings.

Counsel made some objections to evidence, he urged motions to the trial court and presented some argument to the jury.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Now, two counsel were appointed, weren't they?

Leslie A. Benitez:

That's correct, Your Honor.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Through the briefs I find small mention of Mr. Samples, was that his name?

Did he just sit by and do nothing?

Leslie A. Benitez:

The record reflects that he participated to a very limited extent by occasionally bringing a matter or two to the attention of the trial court out of the presence of the jury.

But he did participate hardly at all in the trial proceedings.

Harry A. Blackmun:

So your opposition would take the position that the two counsels stood in stark contrast one to the other.

Leslie A. Benitez:

I don't believe that Respondent has particularly made that argument, but the record does reflect that that is the case.

Some of the intermittent participation of counsel was overtly encouraged by Respondent, some was done without objection by him, and some was done over his objection.

The record does reflect, however, that most of the assistance provided by standby counsel did occur out of the presence of the jury.

The record also reflects that counsel inexcusably and indefensibly twice cursed, once in the presence of the jury.

William H. Rehnquist:


Leslie A. Benitez:

That's correct, Your Honor.

More importantly, however, for this Court's analysis, the record reflects that Respondent himself made the decision to proceed to trial in this case, examined the jury panel and selected the jurors, argued both pretrial and trial motions to the court, cross examined the state's witnesses, chose his defensive theory and strategy, presented and examined his own witnesses, and argued his case to the jury.

There were times during the course of the trial when conflict arose between standby counsel and Respondent.

The record, however, reflects that the trial court always and without exception recognized Respondent's right to make the necessary decisions and sustained the Respondent's position.