Thursday, September 04, 2003

Trial court reversed for making defendant choose between testifying and keeping his lawyer

In U.S. v. Midgett, the Fourth Circuit in an opinion by Judge Traxler joined by Judges King and Gregory reversed the appellant's conviction because the trial court had forced the defendant "to choose between his right to a lawyer and his right to testify on his own behalf." After the government put on its evidence, there was some dispute between the defendant and his lawyer, who sought to withdraw, but "[r]ather than permitting his lawyer to withdraw, the court offered Midgett the choice of either acceding to defense counsel’s refusal to put him on the stand or representing himself without further assistance of counsel." The Court noted: "Defense counsel’s mere belief, albeit a strong one supported by other evidence, was not a sufficient basis to refuse Midgett’s need for assistance in presenting his own testimony."

The Court reasoned that the trial court could not know that the defendant was lying just because his own testimony would not be corroborated: "The defendant was told to waive either his right to counsel or his right to testify because neither his counsel nor the court was satisfied that his testimony would be truthful. In so doing, the court leveled an ultimatum upon Midgett which, of necessity, deprived him of his constitutional right to testify on his own behalf."

No comments: