OLYMPIA – A drug defendant who insisted on acting as his own counsel because he wouldn’t agree to a delay in his trial doesn’t deserve to have his conviction overturned because the judge agreed to let him be his own attorney, the Washington Supreme Court said Thursday.
Jerome Curry Jr. was facing a series of drug charges in Spokane County Superior Court in 2015 when he was appointed a new defense attorney. The new lawyer wanted to delay the upcoming trial to prepare. Curry didn’t want a delay, and asked to represent himself.
Before agreeing to the motion for Curry to act as his own attorney, Superior Court Judge John Cooney asked a series of questions to determine whether he understood the charges and the possible sentence, and warned him about the dangers of self-representation. He asked if Curry had been threatened or promised anything, and whether it was a voluntary decision.
“I don’t think it’s a wise choice,” Cooney warned, according to the Supreme Court ruling issued Thursday. “You’re facing a lot of downside here if convicted.”
Curry said he felt he had no choice but to represent himself because he didn’t want any further delays and his attorney wouldn’t be ready without a continuance. So he was allowed to represent himself, with a lawyer standing by to assist him.
After he was convicted, he appealed and the Court of Appeals reversed the conviction, concluding his request wasn’t “unequivocal,” the standard for a defendant to act as his own attorney.
The Supreme Court reversed that finding Thursday, saying self-representation is a constitutional right as long as the defendant makes a “knowing and intelligent waiver of the right to counsel.” Curry’s motion to act as his own counsel said it was made “without any equivocation,” the court noted. Cooney discussed the consequences of the decision and assigned a backup attorney to help, so the decision was reasonable and supported by evidence.
The case was sent back to the Court of Appeals, where Curry is challenging several other aspects of his conviction.
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