422 U.S. 806 (1975), 73-5772, Faretta v. California

Docket NºNo. 73-5772
Citation422 U.S. 806, 95 S.Ct. 2525, 45 L.Ed.2d 562
Party NameFaretta v. California
Case DateJune 30, 1975
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

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422 U.S. 806 (1975)

95 S.Ct. 2525, 45 L.Ed.2d 562




No. 73-5772

United States Supreme Court

June 30, 1975

Argued November 19, 1974




The Sixth Amendment as made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth guarantees that a defendant in a state criminal trial has an independent constitutional right of self-representation and that he may proceed to defend himself without counsel when he voluntarily and intelligently elects to do so, and, in this case, the state courts erred in forcing petitioner against his will to accept a state-appointed public defender and in denying his request to conduct his own defense. Pp. 812-836.

Vacated and remanded.

STEWART, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which DOUGLAS, BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, and POWELL, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BLACKMUN and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, post, p. 836. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and REHNQUIST, J., joined, post, p. 846.

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STEWART, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments of our Constitution guarantee that a person brought to trial in any state or federal court must be afforded the right to the assistance of counsel before he can be validly convicted and punished by imprisonment. This clear constitutional rule has emerged from a series of cases decided here over the last 50 years.1 The question before us now is whether a defendant in a state criminal trial has a constitutional right to proceed without counsel when he voluntarily and intelligently elects to do so. Stated another way, the question is whether a State may constitutionally hale a person into its criminal courts and there force a lawyer upon him, even when he insists that he wants to conduct his own defense. It is not an easy question, but we have concluded that a State may not constitutionally do so.


Anthony Faretta was charged with grand theft in an information filed in the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Cal. At the arraignment, the Superior Court Judge assigned to preside at the trial appointed the public defender to represent Faretta. Well before the date of trial, however, Faretta requested that he be permitted to represent himself. Questioning by the judge revealed that Faretta had once represented himself in a criminal prosecution, that he had a high school education, and that he did not want to be represented by the public defender because he believed that that office was "very loaded down with . . . a heavy case load." The judge

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responded that he believed Faretta was "making a mistake," and emphasized that, in further proceedings, Faretta would receive no special favors.2 Nevertheless, after establishing that Faretta wanted to represent himself and did not want a [95 S.Ct. 2528] lawyer, the judge, in a "preliminary ruling," accepted Faretta's waiver of the assistance of counsel. The judge indicated, however, that he might reverse this ruling if it later appeared that Faretta was unable adequately to represent himself.

Several weeks thereafter, but still prior to trial, the judge sua sponte held a hearing to inquire into Faretta's ability to conduct his own defense, and questioned him specifically about both the hearsay rule and the state law governing the challenge of potential jurors.3 After [95 S.Ct. 2529] consideration

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of Faretta's answers and observation of his demeanor, the judge ruled that Faretta had not made an intelligent and knowing waiver of his right to the assistance

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of counsel, and also ruled that Faretta had no constitutional right to conduct his own defense.4 The judge, accordingly, reversed his earlier ruling permitting self-representation, and again appointed the public defender to represent Faretta. Faretta's subsequent request for leave to act as co-counsel was rejected, as were his efforts to make certain motions on his own behalf.5 Throughout

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the subsequent trial, the judge required that Faretta's defense be conducted only through the appointed lawyer from the public defender's office. At the conclusion of the trial, the Jury found Faretta guilty as charged, and the judge sentenced him to prison.

The California Court of Appeal, relying upon a then-recent California Supreme Court decision that had expressly decided the issue,6 affirmed the trial judge's ruling that Faretta had no federal or state constitutional right

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to represent himself.7 Accordingly, the appellate court affirmed Faretta's conviction. A petition for rehearing was denied without opinion, and the California Supreme Court denied review.8 We granted certiorari. 415 U.S. 975.


In the federal courts, the right of self-representation has been protected by statute since the beginnings of our Nation. Section 35 of the Judiciary Act of 1789, 1 Stat. 73, 92, enacted by the First Congress and signed by President Washington one day before the Sixth Amendment

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was proposed, provided that,

in all the courts of the United States, the parties may plead and manage their own causes personally or by the assistance of . . . counsel. . . .

The right is currently codified in 28 U.S.C. § 1654.

With few exceptions, each of the several States also accords a defendant the right to represent himself in any criminal case.9 The Constitutions of 36 States explicitly confer that right.10 Moreover, many state courts have

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expressed the view that the right is also supported by the Constitution of the United States.11

This Court has more than once indicated the same view. In Adams v. United States ex rel. McCann, 317 U.S. 269, 279, the Court recognized that the Sixth Amendment right to the assistance of counsel implicitly embodies a "correlative right to dispense with a lawyer's help." The defendant in that case, indicted for [95 S.Ct. 2531] federal mail fraud violations, insisted on conducting his own defense without benefit of counsel. He also requested a bench trial and signed a waiver of his right to trial by jury. The prosecution consented to the waiver of a jury, and the waiver was accepted by the court. The defendant was convicted, but the Court of Appeals reversed the conviction on the ground that a person accused of a felony could not competently waive his right to trial by jury except upon the advice of a lawyer. This Court reversed, and reinstated the conviction, holding that

an accused, in the exercise of a free and intelligent choice, and with the considered approval of the court, may waive trial by jury, and so likewise may he competently and intelligently waive his Constitutional right to assistance of counsel.

Id. at 275.

The Adams case does not, of course, necessarily resolve the issue before us. It held only that "the Constitution

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does not force a lawyer upon a defendant." Id. at 279.12 Whether the Constitution forbids a State from forcing a lawyer upon a defendant is a different question. But the Court in Adams did recognize, albeit in dictum, an affirmative right of self-representation:

The right to assistance of counsel and the correlative right to dispense with a lawyer's help are not legal formalisms. They rest on considerations that go to the substance of an accused's position before the law. . . .

. . . What were contrived as protections for the accused should not be turned into fetters. . . . To deny an accused a choice of procedure in circumstances in which he, though a layman, is as capable as any lawyer of making an intelligent choice, is to impair the worth of great Constitutional safeguards by treating them as empty verbalisms.

. . . When the administration of the criminal law . . . is hedged about, as it is, by the Constitutional safeguards for the protection of an accused, to deny him in the exercise of his free choice the right to dispense with some of these safeguards . . . is to imprison a man in his privileges, and call it the Constitution.

Id. at 279-280 (emphasis added). In other settings as well, the Court has indicated that

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a defendant has a constitutionally protected right to represent himself in a criminal trial. For example, in Snyder v. Massachusetts, 291 U.S. 97, the Court held that the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment gives the accused a right to be present at all stages of the proceedings where fundamental fairness might be thwarted by his absence. This right to "presence" was based upon the premise that the

defense may be made easier if the accused is permitted to be present at the examination of jurors or the summing up of counsel, for it will be in his power, if present, to give advice or suggestion or even to supersede his lawyers altogether and conduct the trial himself.

Id. at 106 (emphasis added). And in Price v. Johnston, 334 U.S. 266, the Court, in holding that a convicted person had no absolute right to argue his own appeal, said this holding was in "sharp contrast" to his "recognized privilege [95 S.Ct. 2532] of conducting his own defense at the trial." Id. at 285.

The United States Courts of Appeals have repeatedly held that the right of self-representation is protected by the Bill of Rights. In United States v. Plattner, 330 F.2d 271, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit emphasized that the Sixth Amendment grants the accused the rights of confrontation of compulsory process for witnesses in his favor, and of assistance of counsel as minimum procedural requirements in federal criminal prosecutions. The right to the assistance of counsel, the court concluded, was intended to supplement the other rights of the defendant, and not to impair "the absolute and primary right to conduct one's own defense in propria persona." Id. at 274. The court found support for its decision in the language of the...

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