Wednesday, July 1, 2020
Inmate Who Chose Not to Attend Court Hearing Wrongfully Divested of Pro Per Status—C.A.
Opinion Says Prisoner, Charged With New Offense, Had ‘Rational Explanation’ for Refusing to Be Brought to Courthouse and There Had Been No Previous Incident
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A prison inmate who refused to be transported to court for a pretrial hearing on a new charge was wrongfully stripped of his pro per status, the Court of Appeal for this district has held, reversing his conviction for possessing a controlled substance in prison.
Justice Audrey B. Collins wrote the opinion, filed Monday and not certified for publication. Although the appellant, Scot Eric Pinkerton, was convicted in the courtroom of Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Daviann Mitchell, it was another judge of that court, Charles Chung, who terminated his self-representation, finding that his Faretta right had been abused.
Correctional officers apparently do not transport inmates from the California State Prison, Los Angeles County, located in Lancaster, unless the prisoner consents. On the day on which Chung appointed counsel for Pinkerton—April 10, 2018—the inmate withheld permission to take him to the courthouse, as did his co-defendant, James Thomas.
Waste of Time
Pinkerton’s explanation to the correctional officer was that if Thomas wasn’t going, neither was he, because on two prior occasions, he came to court, Thomas didn’t, and the matter wasn’t heard because both defendants were not present.
He was quoted as saying: “I refuse to sit in court all day.”
Chung, who was scheduled to hear Pinkerton’s motion for a dismissal of charges, pursuant to Penal Code §995, was advised of Pinkerton’s reason for absenting himself from the proceeding and found it inadequate.
The judge said:
“Based on his refusal to come to court the court will note the following: We are in a special circumstance murder trial. We have been trying to call Pinkerton and Thomas before we start our special circumstances murder trial. Because Pinkerton and Thomas refused to come to court, we are now delayed on our trial. We have jurors waiting.
“I find that Mr. Pinkerton’s actions have detrimentally affected the core operation of this courtroom. And that because of his actions I believe that any future jury trial would also be jeopardized, the orderly running of that.
“Based on that I find good cause to revoke Mr. Pinkerton’s pro per status. The 995 is off calendar.”
In explaining the reversal, Collins wrote:
“We agree with defendant that the trial court abused its discretion here. Defendant refused to come to court for a single pretrial hearing. This behavior was ‘subject to rectification or correction.’…The court did not provide defendant an opportunity to correct the behavior, however. Nor did it warn him that refusing to appear, whether once or on multiple occasions, could result in termination of his pro per status, which to that point defendant had not abused. To the contrary, the record reflects that codefendant Thomas (who was represented by counsel) refused to attend the proceedings multiple times with no apparent consequence. The court simply continued the matter on these occasions; it made no comments or remarks that reasonably could be understood to apprise defendant that he could face termination of his self-representation if he too refused to attend a hearing.”
“Defendant provided the transporting officer a rational explanation for his refusal to attend, which the court received. Although the court did not conduct any further inquiry into defendant’s conduct, there is no indication in the record that defendant acted with the intent to disrupt or delay his trial on this or any other occasion. The court focused primarily on the effect of defendant’s refusal to appear on an unrelated matter and ‘the core operation of this courtroom.’ This may be a relevant consideration, but the court’s primary concern should be the likely ‘effect of the misconduct’ on the trial at hand…, not other, unrelated matters briefly inconvenienced.”
No Blanket Rule
Collins specified that she wasn’t saying that a single instance of misconduct can never justifiably result in denial of the Faretta right to self-representation nor was she finding Pinkerton’s conduct to have been acceptable.
“We hold only that under the circumstances presented in this case, the trial court abused its discretion by terminating defendant’s self-representation,” she said. “Because such error is reversible per se…, we need not consider whether defendant was prejudiced.”
The case is People v. Pinkerton, B294079.
Copyright 2020, Metropolitan News Company