Snead v. State

Decision Date01 October 1979
Docket NumberNo. 18,18
Citation406 A.2d 98,286 Md. 122
PartiesRichard Lee SNEAD v. STATE of Maryland.
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

Arthur A. DeLano, Jr., Asst. Public Defender, Baltimore (Alan H. Murrell, Public Defender, Baltimore, on brief), for appellant.

Valerie A. Leonhart, Asst. Atty. Gen., Baltimore (Stephen H. Sachs, Atty. Gen., Baltimore, on brief), for appellee.


ORTH, Judge.


It is now clear that an accused in a criminal prosecution has two independent constitutional rights with regard to the management of his defense. He has both the right to have the assistance of counsel and the right to defend Pro se. The first is guaranteed by the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the federal constitution and emerged as a clear constitutional rule from a series of cases decided by the Supreme Court of the United States over the last 50 years. See, e. g., Argersinger v. Hamlin,407 U.S. 25, 92 S.Ct. 2006, 32 L.Ed.2d 530 (1972); Gideon v. Wainwright,372 U.S. 335, 83 S.Ct. 792, 9 L.Ed.2d 799 (1963); Powell v. Alabama, 287 U.S. 45, 53 S.Ct. 55, 77 L.Ed. 158 (1932). The second was announced in Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806, 95 S.Ct. 2525, 45 L.Ed.2d 562 (1975). Its roots are in

a nearly universal conviction, on the part of our people as well as our courts, that forcing a lawyer upon an unwilling defendant is contrary to his basic right to defend himself if he truly wants to do so.

This consensus is soundly premised. The right to self-representation finds support in the structure of the Sixth Amendment, as well as in the English and colonial jurisprudence from which the Amendment emerged. (422 U.S. at 817-832, 95 S.Ct. at 2532. 1

Although Faretta held that self-representation was an independent constitutional right in criminal prosecutions, 2 it left unresolved certain procedural matters, having no occasion to address, on the facts of the case, the many serious practical questions with respect to implementing the right at trial. Mr. Justice Blackmun, in his dissent, expressed the fear "that the right to self-representation constitutionalized (by the majority) frequently will cause procedural confusion without advancing any significant strategic interest of the defendant." 422 U.S. at 846, 95 S.Ct. at 2547. He noted some of the host of procedural problems that he suspected the court's decision would visit upon trial courts in the future. Id. at 852, 95 S.Ct. 2525. Some of the problems he anticipated surface in the case before us.


We granted Richard Lee Snead's petition for a writ of certiorari which presented the question whether Snead was "denied his Sixth Amendment right of self-representation" and the State's cross-petition which asked us to determine, in the event we found that Snead was denied the right to represent himself, whether the error was harmless. The Court of Special Appeals had held in an unreported opinion that the right to self-representation had not been denied and had affirmed the judgments of the Circuit Court for Worcester County entered upon Snead's convictions by a jury of robbery with a deadly weapon, grand larceny and assault with intent to rob.

We give a compendium of the facts pertinent to the issues. On 22 March 1978 trial was set for 12 April. On 11 April Snead filed a "Motion for Continuance" predicated upon an allegation of his ill health. When the case came on for trial the next day, the motion was considered before trial began. Snead pursued his allegation that he was ill, and, after discussion by the court, the defendant and counsel, the court found no cause to postpone the trial for reason of illness. Its denial of the motion on that ground is not now contested. In discussing the motion with the court, Snead expressed dissatisfaction with his attorney, Thomas C. Groton, a public defender assigned to represent him. He said: "I feel as though that I would like to get a delay in this case to get my nephew and my family time to get another attorney. From my understanding, Mr. Groton, the way he is talking, I am guilty before I even come in the courtroom." The court commented: "Well, now, the Court knows Mr. Groton very well. He is well qualified. He does not have any such preconception. . . . He has been your attorney since February 27, 1978. You have had plenty of time to get other counsel." Snead disagreed: "I haven't had plenty of time. I have only seen him twice. My family is going to get together and get me some attorneys. That is why I would like to get this case postponed. I done 22 years out of my life for a crime I didn't do. So I feel like I don't get justice without my own attorney here." The court told Snead that he could not get a delay "the motion to continue (the trial) to give you time to get other counsel is denied." Snead persisted. He stated flatly: "I don't want Mr. Groton." The court replied: "You have got Mr. Groton." Snead was far from content. The transcript reads:

THE DEFENDANT: He told me every time he come to see me, he tell me I am guilty before I come in the courtroom. Why should I have a man he feels that way, before I come into the courtroom.

THE COURT: Make your mind up Mr. Groton is going to represent you.

THE DEFENDANT: I can't get time for my people to get me no attorney?

THE COURT: No, sir.

THE DEFENDANT: I don't want no attorney then.

THE COURT: Well, I am going to appoint him to represent you. He has been in the case. He is very competent. He is capable of representing you.

THE DEFENDANT: Well, he is competent to your understanding, I feel that, but the way he tells me he is not competent to my understanding.


THE DEFENDANT: The last attorney the State appointed me

THE COURT: I made the ruling, Mr. Snead. Mr. Groton is going to stay in the case.

THE DEFENDANT: I don't have to accept him, Your Honor.

THE COURT: Yes, you do. You have got him.

At the close of the State's case, defense counsel asked Snead if he desired to call any witnesses. Snead suggested one but upon reflection agreed with defense counsel's belief that it would not be in Snead's best interest to have that witness testify. Snead elected not to testify in his own behalf.


The Court of Special Appeals held that Snead was not unconstitutionally denied the right of self-representation because he failed to assert that right. In the intermediate court's view, he "gave no clear indication to the trial judge that he truly wanted to defend himself." As it construed the discussion on the issue, Snead "never expressly stated that he wanted to represent himself," and such a desire, the court opined, could not be inferred under the circumstances. It concluded that Snead's "statements regarding his desire not to have an attorney were no more than vague and petulant utterances, falling far short of a clear and unequivocal assertion of his right to self-representation." If anything is clear from (Snead's) statements to the judge," the court observed, "it is that he, in fact, did Not want to represent himself, but instead wanted an attorney of his own choosing."

One of the procedural problems to be determined is how the right to self- representation must be asserted. This question presented no problem in Faretta. There, "weeks before trial, Faretta clearly and unequivocally declared to the trial judge that he wanted to represent himself and did not want counsel." 422 U.S. at 835, 95 S.Ct. at 2541. The Court enunciated no guidelines as to what minimum "declaration" was sufficient to constitute an assertion of the right, apparently because the steps taken by Faretta exceeded by a wide margin any minimum declaration which the Court may have had in mind. As we see it, such a declaration serves to alert the trial judge that further inquiry may be necessary. Therefore, any statement by the defendant from which the court could reasonably conclude that the defendant desired self-representation would be sufficient.

When the defendant so indicates a desire to defend Pro se the court must, by appropriate inquiry, determine whether he "truly wants to do so." Faretta, 422 U.S. at 817, 95 S.Ct. 2525. This inquiry has two phases. First, the court should ascertain whether the defendant "clearly and unequivocally" wants to defend himself. If a defendant makes known to the court, admitting of no doubt or misunderstanding, that he desires to represent himself, the right to do so has been properly asserted.

Once the defendant has clearly and unequivocally declared his desire to proceed Pro se, the second phase of the inquiry is triggered. Certain factors guide this phase. "The right to defend is personal. . . . And although (a defendant) may conduct his own defense ultimately to his own detriment, his choice must be honored out of 'that respect for the individual which is the lifeblood of the law.' " 422 U.S. at 834, 95 S.Ct. at 2541, quoting Illinois v. Allen, 397 U.S. 337, 350-351, 90 S.Ct. 1057, 25 L.Ed.2d 353 (1970) (Brennan, J., concurring). "An unwanted counsel 'represents' the defendant only through a tenuous and unacceptable legal fiction. Unless the accused has acquiesced in such representation, the defense presented is not the defense guaranteed him by the Constitution, for, in a very real sense, it is not His defense." Faretta, 422 U.S. at 821, 95 S.Ct. at 2534. 3 "To force a lawyer on a defendant can only lead him to believe that the law contrives against him." Id. at 834, 95 S.Ct. at 2540. The acquiescence by the accused must be in light of the relinquishment of many of the traditional benefits associated with the right to counsel, because these benefits are relinquished, as a purely factual matter, when an accused manages his own defense. Id. at 835, 95 S.Ct. 2525. Therefore, the Court said, citing Johnson v. Zerbst, 304 U.S. 458, 464-465, 58 S.Ct. 1019, 82 L.Ed. 1461 (1938), "in order to represent himself, the accused must 'knowingly and intelligently' forgo...

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    ...judge did not make an inquiry to determine whether there was an unequivocal waiver of counsel based on our holding in Snead v. State, 286 Md. 122, 406 A.2d 98 (1979). We believe appellant's reliance on Snead is misplaced. There, Snead asked for a continuance to allow his family to engage th......
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