Lyons v. State, 19901

Decision Date18 July 1990
Docket NumberNo. 19901,19901
Citation106 Nev. 438,796 P.2d 210
PartiesHarold LYONS, Appellant, v. The STATE of Nevada, Respondent.
CourtNevada Supreme Court

Ward & Maglaras, Las Vegas, for appellant.

Brian McKay, Atty. Gen., Carson City, Rex Bell, Dist. Atty., William T. Koot, Deputy Dist. Atty., Las Vegas, for respondent.


ROSE, Justice:

Appellant Harold Lyons (Lyons) was convicted and sentenced on five criminal counts relating to the manufacture of methamphetamine. The most important issue raised by this appeal is whether the district court erred by denying Mr. Lyons' day-of-trial request to represent himself pro se. We conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Lyons' request under the facts of this case. Because Lyons' remaining contentions do not warrant reversal, we affirm the judgment of conviction in all respects.


Police conducted surveillance of several persons suspected of conspiring to manufacture Lyons and several other suspected co-conspirators were indicted by a Clark County grand jury in May 1985. On October 8, 1985, the indictment was dismissed without prejudice. On May 9, 1986, the grand jury returned a second indictment charging Lyons and several others with several drug-related counts.

methamphetamine. Officers observed purchases of large amounts of certain chemicals and laboratory glassware connected to a Las Vegas business. On March 2, 1985, based on their observations during surveillance, police arrested Lyons without a warrant in a U-Haul truck on suspicion of conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine. Police secured the truck, and soon thereafter obtained a search warrant for the truck and several other locations relating to Lyons and several other members of the suspected conspiracy. Found in the truck which Lyons had been driving were large amounts of precursor chemicals for the manufacture of methamphetamine, as well as laboratory glassware.

Lyons was represented by attorney John Momot. On June 7, 1988, Momot moved to withdraw from the case, and the court granted the motion. On June 16, 1988, the date set to confirm another counsel for Lyons, the court minutes state that: "Mr. Lyons represented to [the] court he wants to get his own attorney, and his son is going to help him do this;" the court continued the matter for two weeks to give Lyons a chance to obtain counsel. Two weeks later, Lyons reported that he had been unable to obtain counsel. The court then attempted to appoint several attorneys for Lyons, but each attorney declined for various reasons. Finally, on August 2, 1988, James Mayberry was appointed as Lyons' counsel. On August 16, 1988, the court set the trial date at December 5, 1988, approximately two years and seven months after the second grand jury indictment.

On November 10, 1988, the court heard three motions submitted by Lyons' counsel James Mayberry, of which the court granted one (a motion to sever a count). On December 5, 1988, the first day of trial and immediately before scheduled voir dire of prospective jurors, Lyons moved the court for a postponement of the trial. Lyons said that he was dissatisfied with Mayberry because he failed to file certain motions. Lyons said that he had initially refused to accept Mayberry as counsel unless Mayberry promised to file certain pre-trial motions conceived of by Lyons, an assertion that Mayberry qualified by adding that he informed Lyons that he would file only motions he felt had some merit. Based on his dissatisfaction with Mayberry, Lyons requested the court to grant a postponement to give him time to hire another attorney of his own choosing, or, in the alternative, to proceed in pro se.

The district judge asked Mr. Lyons what other pretrial motions he wanted to file and Lyons stated a number of them, these motions generally dealing with the conduct of the grand jury in indicting Lyons and with the conduct of the prosecutor. The district court denied them all as either having already been heard or having no merit.

Mr. Lyons again repeated his request to represent himself or to hire an attorney to represent him in a way he considered proper, and the court's response reflected the frustration and impatience it felt with Lyons and his request for a postponement:

Mr. Lyons, I gave you every opportunity to do that in the last year. I have tried every attorney in this town to be your counsel and they have basically refused.

I now have a good attorney for you and we are going to go to trial with that attorney because you are not going to get along with any attorney.

The court stated that the written motions it had received directly from Lyons showed that he did not know how to present a written document to the court and that Lyons' statements that morning showed that he did not know how to present relevant evidence. The court concluded that the case was too complicated for Lyons to represent himself and that Lyons was attempting to make a mockery of the court.

At trial, the State proved that the truck Lyons was driving when he was arrested contained chemicals and lab equipment sufficient to manufacture large amounts of methamphetamine. The State also proved that about 3.5 pounds of a substance identified as methamphetamine had been seized at a warehouse owned by another suspected co-conspirator, Walter Crutchfield. One Derek McClean, aka Joe Bentz, testified that he had manufactured methamphetamine at several locations, including Crutchfield's warehouse, and that Lyons had paid him $2,000 per week for manufacturing the drug.

The jury found Lyons guilty of one count each of: conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine, possession of a controlled substance (ephedrine), attempt to manufacture methamphetamine, trafficking in methamphetamine in the amount of 400 grams or more, and racketeering. The district court further found Lyons to be an habitual criminal pursuant to NRS 207.010(2), based on six prior felony convictions. The court sentenced Lyons to life without the possibility of parole based on this finding. Lyons was sentenced to various other terms of imprisonment, which run concurrent with the sentence of life without possibility of parole.

I. Lyons' request to exercise his sixth amendment right to self-representation.

This case gives us the opportunity to review a defendant's right to represent himself and when that right must be asserted. This court has held that criminal defendants have an "unqualified right" to self-representation, so long as there is a voluntary and intelligent waiver of the right to counsel. Baker v. State, 97 Nev. 634, 636, 637 P.2d 1217, 1218 (1981) (citing Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806, 95 S.Ct. 2525, 45 L.Ed.2d 562 (1975)). Additionally, the denial of this right is never subject to harmful error analysis; it is per se harmful. McKaskle v. Wiggins, 465 U.S. 168, 177 n. 8, 104 S.Ct. 944, 950 n. 8, 79 L.Ed.2d 122 (1984). Although the constitutional right of self-representation is generally protected by the courts, courts sometimes permit self-representation to be denied, where: (1) the defendant's request for self-representation is untimely; (2) the request is equivocal; (3) the request is made solely for purposes of delay; (4) the defendant abuses the right of self-representation by disrupting the judicial process; (5) the case is especially complex, requiring the assistance of counsel; or (6) the defendant is incompetent to voluntarily and intelligently waive his or her right to counsel. See 2 La Fave and Israel, Criminal Procedure § 11.5(d) (Supp.1990) (collecting cases); Young v. State, 98 Nev. 467, 653 P.2d 153 (1982); Baker, supra; Block v. State, 95 Nev. 933, 604 P.2d 338 (1979); Schnepp v. State, 92 Nev. 557, 554 P.2d 1122 (1976); Ashcraft v. Florida, 465 So.2d 1374 (Fla.App.1985).

Lyons argues that the district court erred in denying his day-of-trial request for a postponement to hire another attorney or to represent himself pro se. The district court denied his request for a continuance because he had already been represented by several attorneys and the case was too complicated and complex for him to represent himself. We conclude that the district court's denial was justified because this was an especially complex trial and because Lyons' request was untimely.

The trial below lasted ten days, with 20 appearances on the witness stand for the prosecution and 10 for the defense. Several of Lyons' possible defenses to the charge of running a methamphetamine lab were quite technical. These defenses required an understanding of both the possible legal and illegal uses of the chemicals and lab equipment found in the U-Haul, as well as the ability to communicate these technical facts to a jury. Additionally, this was a racketeering case described by prosecutors as involving the largest illicit methamphetamine manufacturing enterprise ever uncovered in Nevada. The State had to prove a series of transactions in order to demonstrate racketeering. Taken alone, any single purchase or movement of a precursor chemical by the conspirators might seem A court may deny a defendant's request to represent himself when a case is so complex that the defendant would virtually be denied a fair trial if allowed to proceed pro se. See Ashcraft, supra. 1 We conclude that the district court was correct in denying Lyons' request on the ground that, as the court stated, "the trial is too complex."

innocuous and legitimate. It was only by painstakingly piecing together numerous purchases, movements, statements and other transactions by the conspirators that the State could demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt the existence of an organized and long-standing conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine. In short, this was a racketeering case and was much more complex than the usual drug possession or trafficking case.

Next is the issue of the timeliness of Lyons' request. The U.S. Supreme Court has not specifically addressed the...

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