Monday, July 13, 2009
Ninth Circuit Upholds Waiver of Counsel in Radio Jamming Case
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A district judge did not err in finding that a Bell man convicted on federal charges of jamming radio frequencies being used by the military and by public safety agencies had willingly waived his right to counsel, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday.
The panel, in an opinion by Judge Sandra Ikuta, said U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner of the Central District of California adequately warned Jack Gerritsen before allowing him to represent himself in a three-and-a-half day trial in December 2005.
Gerritsen, then 70, was found guilty of a felony charge of malicious interference with a communications system operated by the federal government and of two misdemeanor counts of willful or malicious interference with radio communications and three misdemeanor counts of transmitting radio signals without a license.
He was sentenced to seven years in prison.
The Federal Communications Commission investigated illegal radio transmissions linked to Gerritsen for four years, prosecutors said at the time. They said Gerritsen transmitted prerecorded messages, as well as real-time harassment and profanity, for hours at a time, often making it impossible for licensed radio operators to use the public frequencies.
Gerritsen has been associated over the years with a number of left-of-center political causes, including an effort to launch a recall of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and frequently criticized then-President George W. Bush over the airwaves.
Six years before he was tried on the federal charges, Gerritsen was convicted in state court of interfering with a police radio frequency, and he was sentenced to 38 months in prison. Gerritsen was released from prison on July 28, 2003, and soon after the FCC began receiving complaints about his activity on the airwaves.
The agencies whose transmissions Gerritsen was convicted of interfering with included the Bell Gardens Police Department, the Los Angeles City Fire Department, the Coast Guard Auxiliary, the American Red Cross and the Army Reserve.
On appeal, Gerritsen—represented by Deputy Federal Public Defender Elizabeth A. Newman—argued that his waiver was invalid because he was not fully advised of the consequences of acting as his own lawyer.
Under the circumstances, Ikuta wrote, the district judge was not required to advise the defendant of all of the pitfalls of self-representation, including “that he would be handicapped in selecting a jury, making an opening statement, introducing admissible evidence, conducting direct and cross-examination of witnesses, making motions to protect his rights on appeal, and making an appropriate closing argument.”
Gerritsen, she noted, had been a defendant in at least six misdemeanor cases and one civil action that had gone to jury trial between 1990 and 2005. “Such firsthand experience provides more insight into the pitfalls of self-representation than any admonition from a court could possibly convey,” the judge wrote.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel B. Levin represented the government on appeal.
The case is United States v. Gerritsen, 06-50552.
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