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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court reverses attempted murder conviction [Updated]

Ahmad Edwards v. State - in a 10-page, 5-0 opinion Justice Boehm writes: "Edward's conviction for attempted murder and battery with a deadly weapon are reversed and this case is remanded for further proceedings. We summarily affirm the Court of Appeals as to issues not addressed in this opinion." [This opinion has not yet been posted to the Court's website.]

See this Sept. 19, 2006 ILB entry titled "Court of Appeals orders new trial for man forced to accept lawyer."

[Updated] The opinion in Ahmad Edwards v. State is now available. Some further quotes:

After a three-day trial, Edwards was convicted of attempted murder and battery with a deadly weapon. He was sentenced to presumptive terms on those two counts and the two convictions from the first trial, with all four sentences to be served concurrently. This resulted in a sentence of thirty years, the presumptive sentence for attempted murder. Edwards appealed, claiming that he was denied his Sixth Amendment right to self-representation at his second trial. The Court of Appeals agreed and reversed and remanded this case for retrial of the attempted murder and battery counts. Edwards v. State, 854 N.E.2d 42, 45 (Ind. Ct. App. 2006). The State seeks transfer, which is granted by order concurrent with this opinion. * * *

We agree with the State that the trial court’s conclusion that Edwards was incapable of adequate self-representation was, at a minimum, reasonable. We understand the trial court’s purpose to ensure that Edwards received a fair trial, which is a fundamental requirement of due process. Ward v. State, 810 N.E.2d 1042, 1048 (Ind. 2004) (citing In re Murchison, 349 U.S. 133, 136 (1955)). However, we agree with the conclusion of the Court of Appeals that the Supreme Court of the United States has held that competency to represent oneself at trial is measured by competency to stand trial. Edwards, 854 N.E.2d at 48. Edwards was found competent to stand trial on July 29, 2004, and no party contends he was not competent to stand trial in December 2005. Similarly, as the Court of Appeals pointed out, there has been no claim by the State that Edwards’s waiver of counsel was not knowing and voluntary. Here we have a determination by an experienced trial judge that Edwards was incapable of presenting a defense. That determination is necessarily based on factors better evaluated by, as Justice Breyer put it, “judges closer to the firing line.” Martinez, 528 U.S. at 164. We have sympathy for the view that a trial court should be afforded some discretion to make that call. The record in this case presents a substantial basis to agree with the trial court and thus presents an opportunity to revisit the holdings of Faretta and Godinez, if the Supreme Court of the United States decides that is to be done. However, as it stands today, we are bound by these authorities as Supreme Court precedent. Accordingly, we hold that because Edwards was found competent to stand trial he had a constitutional right to proceed pro se and it was reversible error to deny him that right on the ground that he was incapable of presenting his defense.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on May 17, 2007 02:55 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions