†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† THE COUNSELORíS CORNER
Here is ruling that is absolutely right no matter how unfortunate the consequence may be.† In April, our State Supreme Court voted unanimously to overturn the death sentence of a convicted member of the Crips gang.† When defending a criminal case you have the right to defend yourself and the defendant, a Mr. Dent, was denied that right.† In the Dent case, Mr. Dent was charged with murder.† There were two attorneys who were to represent him, a Mr. Miller and a Mr. Maple.† On the appointed trial date, March 6, 1991, Mr. Miller was involved in another trial and Mr. Maple was an hour late to court.† John Shook, the trial judge kicked them both off the case, at which time Mr. Dent requested that he be permitted to represent himself.† Judge Shook, thinking he had the defendant's best interests in mind, said that he was not going to let Mr. Dent represent himself in a case where he could get the death penalty.† While that may seem noble,† it runs contrary to a rule put forth by the United States Supreme Court back in 1975, known as the Faretta decision.† Under Faretta defendants can represent themselves in just about any situation.† Sometimes it can lead to ridiculous results, such as the† unstable defendant who shot up a Long Island railroad train in New York, a few years ago, killing some and wounding others, defending himself against multiple homicide charges, finding himself on Court T.V. and appearing at best, foolish.† What he did though, is exercise his right to represent himself.†
In the Dent case, the court appointed a new attorney and, according to the State Supreme Court, the evidence against Mr. Dent was overwhelming and he received a fair trial.† This is not enough however, as Justice Brown in the opinion for the court wrote that "it is apparent the trial court denied the self-representation request because of the court's erroneous understanding of the law. . ."†† It was clear from the ruling that the court was not happy that it had to decide the way it did.†† The Justices felt themselves bound by Faretta and it's progeny and appropriately so.
Next up here is a possible retrial.† The Los Angeles County District Attorney's office will have to decide how their case looks, whether it is still triable and whether or not they want to prosecute Mr. Dent again.† Justice Chin, who wrote a concurring opinion, notes the irony in that at the proposed re-trial Mr. Dent may well want to have an attorney.† If he now wants one, he can have one.† This will have the effect of giving him two well conducted and fair jury trials instead of the one that most are allowed.† Justice Chin states that "this result is hard to explain in any rational manner."† I agree with Justice Chin, that it would be ironic however, it is correct.† The law is the law and Mr. Dent, as heinous an individual as he may be, was denied his fundamental right to represent himself.† He asked to represent himself unequivocally and in a timely fashion, which is all that is required of him.
Sometimes life isn't fair and sometimes the court system yields results that seem unfair.† This may well be one of them, but the court is doing the right thing.
Dr. Charles J. Unger is a criminal defense attorney in the Glendale law firm of Flanagan, Unger & Grover, and a therapist at the Foothill Centre for Personal and Family Growth.† Mr. Unger writes a bimonthly column on legal and psychological issues.† He can be reached at charlieunger @hotmail.com