Lyles v. Estelle, 81-2106

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
Citation658 F.2d 1015
Docket NumberNo. 81-2106,81-2106
PartiesLouis LYLES, Petitioner-Appellant, v. W. J. ESTELLE, Jr., Director, Texas Department of Corrections, Respondent- Appellee. Summary Calendar. . Unit A *
Decision Date09 October 1981

Louis Lyles, pro se.

Charles A. Palmer, Asst. Atty. Gen., Austin, Tex., for respondent-appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

Before GEE, GARZA and TATE, Circuit Judges.

GARZA, Circuit Judge:

Appellant, a Texas state prisoner, is here on appeal from a district court's denial of a writ of habeas corpus, the most significant ground asserted being a denial of his Sixth Amendment right to self-representation. Because this court finds that such writ was inappropriately denied, we reverse and remand for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.


Appellant, Louis Lyles, was originally indicted for the offense of auto theft, together with two prior felony theft convictions alleged for enhancement. In return for the State's dismissal of the enhancement paragraphs, Lyles plead guilty and was sentenced to ten years imprisonment. That conviction was subsequently reversed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals because the form of indictment used to charge the offense for which Lyles was convicted was fundamentally defective. Reynolds v. State, 547 S.W.2d 590 (Tex.Crim.App.1977).

In compliance with Reynolds, the State later reindicted Lyles. In addition to the theft and two priors for enhancement, the reindictment was modified to include the unauthorized use of a motor vehicle (also a felony). Lyles once again was offered the deal whereby the State would dismiss the enhancement paragraphs in exchange for a guilty plea. This time, however, the offer was refused and a plea of not guilty was entered. The State moved to dismiss the theft count and, after a jury trial, Lyles was found guilty of unauthorized use. The court found the enhancement paragraphs to be true and assessed punishment at life imprisonment. On appeal, the conviction was affirmed. Lyles v. State, 582 S.W.2d 138 (Tex.Crim.App.1979).

Thereafter, Lyles filed the instant application for writ of habeas corpus in federal district court alleging seven grounds for relief. 1 After considering each ground, the court adopted the findings, conclusions and recommendation of the magistrate and dismissed the application for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.

In his present appeal, Lyles reurges all grounds presented to the court below. In granting the writ, however, this court is

limiting its discussion to the denial of appellant's right to self-representation for purposes of judicial economy.


Prior to the trial, Lyles filed a motion with the court seeking to have his court-appointed attorney, Mr. Rosch, dismissed claiming that Rosch was unwilling to see appellant in person to discuss the case. Lyles also asserted that the degree of animosity between the two parties rendered Rosch's aid ineffective. After entertaining oral argument on the point, the first trial judge denied the motion to dismiss but ruled that Lyles could represent himself provided Mr. Rosch remained present at trial in an advisory capacity.

His case was apparently sent to another judge for trial where he attempted to renew the original motion before the new court. Seeing that the matter had already been decided by his predecessor, the court attempted to summarily dispose of the request. Lyles then contended that he was being denied his right to counsel. The court adamantly refused to appoint new counsel, but gave Lyles a choice he could either proceed with Rosch as his court-appointed attorney or he could choose to represent himself:

THE COURT: Now, do you have anything to say to say to the Court about that?

THE DEFENDANT: We have been arguing the fact for the last two months about counsel.

THE COURT: Well, I don't want to know about how long you argued, all I want to know is do you want counsel here today?

THE DEFENDANT: I'm not accepting this counsel, no, sir.

THE COURT: You don't have to accept him so far as that is concerned, but I want to tell you now that you don't have the right to be represented by counsel and also to represent yourself.

You can not have both, although in any sort of event, the Court will require counsel to remain in the courtroom.

Now, you have the constitutional right to waive counsel.

Do you understand that?


THE COURT: But you cannot waive counsel unless the Court is satisfied first that you are competent to exercise a waiver of counsel which is a fundamental right and one of the most important rights of a person charged with the commission of a crime in the trial of this case to exercise in the trial of this case.

And, any waiver of that right must be based upon, first, your competency to arrive at an intelligent decision as to whether to waive them or not.

And, if you are competent to do that, then the Court must be satisfied that your waiver is intelligent and it is voluntary and that you understand fully the consequences about it.

If the Court approves any such waiver, then the responsibility will be yours.

Mr. Rosch was then asked to take the stand where he opined that Lyles was both competent to represent himself and fully aware of the impact of waiver of counsel. He further admitted that he had been unable to have intelligent discussions with appellant regarding the factual issues involved in the case.

It was then Lyles' turn to be questioned. Information elicited from him included the fact that he was 35 years old, had a 10th grade education, and was unaware of any physical or mental deficiencies which might impair his judgment. When questioned about his earlier insistence on self-representation, the following colloquy took place:

THE COURT: Now, Judge Moore granted your right to represent yourself. I want to double check that that's correct; isn't it?

MR. WILSON: Yes, sir, he's been at least twice

MR. ROSCH: Yes, sir.

THE COURT: I understand he's fully admonished you and advised you about matters that you should take into consideration in arriving at a waiver of the right to counsel.

THE DEFENDANT: Excuse me, your Honor. He has not said that. What I asked him was that he dismiss this counsel and appoint me to someone else. He denied this and I said I would represent myself. If I am going to be denied a lawyer or legal counsel in the courtroom, then I will represent myself because I will not go to Court with Mr. Rosch.

That was the argument. That was what was said.

THE COURT: Let me tell you something right now. I don't mean to be harsh with you in the slightest degree, but you are going to go to trial.


THE COURT: And, you can go to trial as this Court now decides representing yourself or accepting Mr. Rosch as your counsel and you don't have to accept him.

The Court appoints him. Now, are you still of the notion that you can't have your own counsel, or if you can't force the Court to appoint counsel of your selection, then you don't (word omitted) any counsel?

Is that your proposition?

THE DEFENDANT: That's right, sir.

The Court then proceeded to ask Lyles a number of questions concerning the formalities of procedure and evidence, to which appellant gave reasonably intelligent layman's answers. 2 At the conclusion of this line of questioning, the court stated that:

it's obvious to me that this person is not of sufficient understanding to exercise his rights with respect to decide whether he should accept or reject counsel because obviously he doesn't know the most fundamental and rudimentary matters concerning the trial of a case.

And, therefore, this Court would be uneasy as to any waiver he may attempt to exercise.

Therefore, I hold that the waiver has not been intelligent and not been knowingly with respect to the consequences of his waiver.

The Court then indicated that further discussion of the matter was not to be tolerated. Treading dangerously, Lyles ventured to add the following as a final comment:

I only have one thing to say and that is that I am being forced to take this counsel if you are going to try this case.


... I'm saying this:

That if this goes to trial with this lawyer, it is not by my choosing. It is by force because I do not wish to go to trial with this counsel. I will have nothing to say while the trial is going on after I say this.

I don't want anything to do with the trial.

The trial then proceeded with Mr. Rosch representing appellant.


The right of self-representation has long been protected in the federal courts by statute. 3 It was not until Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806, 95 S.Ct. 2525, 45 L.Ed.2d 562 (1975), however, that the Supreme Court held that a defendant in a state criminal trial has a constitutional right to proceed without counsel when he voluntarily and intelligently elects to do so. 4

In the instant case, appellant contends, inter alia, that he is entitled to habeas corpus relief under the theory that he was erroneously denied his right to self-representation. We are inclined to agree. Appellee, however, asserts three different theories as to why such relief should be denied: (1) that appellant failed to clearly assert his Sixth Amendment right to represent himself; (2) alternatively, that the waiver of counsel was not "knowingly and intelligently" made; and (3) that appellant had no valid reason to dismiss his court-appointed counsel. For the reasons set forth below, this Court finds none of these reasons persuasive.

In the past this circuit has held that

because a decision to defend pro se may jeopardize a defendant's chances of receiving an effective defense, and because a pro se defendant cannot complain on appeal that his own defense amounted to a denial of effective assistance of counsel, courts...

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13 cases
  • State v. Gethers
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • September 3, 1985
    ...v. California, 422 U.S. 806, 807, 95 S.Ct. 2525, 2527, 45 L.Ed.2d 562 (1975); see also State v. Gethers, supra, citing Lyles v. Estelle, 658 F.2d 1015, 1020 (5th Cir.1981). See generally annot., 98 A.L.R.3d 13 (1980). The court in Faretta stated the rule as follows: "When an accused manages......
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