Tuesday, July 9, 2002
Failure to Readvise on Right to Counsel Subject to Harmless Error Test—S.C
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The state Supreme Court yesterday settled a discrepancy between two appeals court rulings and held that a felony defendant who is fully advised of the right to counsel in preliminary stages of a proceeding and waives it but is not adequately advised of his right at the trial level is not automatically entitled later on to have his conviction overturned.
The trial judge who failed to readvise the defendant of the right to counsel has erred, Chief Justice Ronald George wrote, but the prejudicial effect of that error must be judged under the harmless error standard.
The ruling is a blow to Timothy Crayton, who represented himself in a Los Angeles Superior Court criminal trial on sex charges as well as robbery, assault, and making terrorist threats. There were also firearms charges.
The sentence, imposed under the Three Strikes Law, came to 510 years to life.
Crayton was arraigned in September 1997 in the Santa Monica Municipal Court, which since has been absorbed by the Los Angeles Superior Court as part of court unification.
Crayton said he intended to represent himself and Hiroshi Fujisaki, then a municipal court judge, engaged him in a discussion about the right to counsel at all stages of the proceedings, the meaning of waiver, and the pitfalls of self-representation. He was later given his admonitions again by Judge Bernard Kamins, a Superior Court judge serving as the magistrate presiding over Crayton’s preliminary hearing.
Kamins also presided over Crayton’s Superior Court arraignment and trial.
George noted that the Penal Code provides that a felony defendant must be advised of the right to counsel at two different pre-trial stages—when he is first brought before a magistrate and advised of the charges, and at the preliminary examination, when the defendant is arraigned in superior court on the information.
“Because, however, the same superior court judge sometimes served both as magistrate during the municipal court proceedings and also as the trial judge in the superior court, the duty under section 987 to readvise the defendant of the right to counsel occasionally has been overlooked,” George said.
That appears to be what happened in Crayton’s case, the chief justice said.
In the 1997 case of People v. Sohrab, the Court of Appeal held that the trial court’s error to readvise and obtain a new waiver was reversible per se. But in Crayton’s case, the Court of Appeal held that the harmless error standard that applies to most state law errors applies also to failure to readvise.
George said federal courts have not generally ruled that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, which applies at all critical stages of a criminal prosecution, requires readvising the defendant of the right at every stage.
“Federal authority holds that once a defendant gives a valid waiver, it continues through the duration of the proceedings unless it is withdrawn or is limited to a particular phase of the case,” George said.
Under state law, he said, the question must be resolved one case at a time.
“In some cases, the exchange between the magistrate and the defendant during the initial advisement and waiver may raise questions as to whether the defendant voluntarily and knowingly intended to waive his or her right to counsel throughout the entire proceedings or only at the preliminary level,” he said. Under such circumstances, a court’s failure to obtain a new waiver might be prejudicial.
But in Crayton’s case, George said, the error was not prejudicial because there was no reasonable probability, given the earlier admonitions, that the defendant was unaware of his right to appointed counsel.
The case is People v. Crayton, S085780.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company