State v. Williams, AC 42612

CourtAppellate Court of Connecticut
Writing for the CourtSUAREZ, J.
Decision Date03 August 2021
Docket NumberAC 42612



No. AC 42612

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

August 3, 2021

Argued January 7, 2021

Procedural History

Substitute information charging the defendant with the crime of sexual assault in the second degree, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Stamford-Norwalk and tried to the court, Blawie, J.; judgment of guilty, from which the defendant appealed to this court. Affirmed.

Jennifer B. Smith, for the appellant (defendant).

Samantha Oden, deputy assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Paul J. Ferencek, state's attorney, and Michelle Manning, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

Prescott, Moll and Suarez, Js.



The defendant, Dayvon Williams, appeals from the judgment of conviction, rendered after a trial to the court, of sexual assault in the second degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-71 (a) (3). On appeal, the defendant claims that the court (1) deprived him of his constitutional right to the assistance of counsel by allowing him to represent himself, and (2) abused its discretion by failing, sua sponte, to order a competency hearing or to appoint counsel for him after it granted his request to represent himself. We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the trial court.

The following procedural history is relevant to this appeal. On May 24, 2018, the state filed a long form information charging the defendant with second degree sexual assault in violation of § 53a-71 (a) (3) related to his alleged conduct involving a female victim[1] in Nor-walk on May 6, 2017. The defendant was represented by three public defenders throughout the pretrial proceedings. Attorney Barry Butler first represented the defendant at a hearing on August 31, 2017, in which it was determined that the defendant qualified for public defender assistance. The court, White, J., appointed the Office of the Public Defender to represent the defendant, and, on September 1, 2017, Attorney Howard Ehring filed an appearance on his behalf.

On October 3, 2017, the defendant filed two motions to dismiss Butler and Ehring from his case. On the same day, he filed an application and writ of habeas corpus ad testificandum to ‘‘regain [his] extradition rights . . . .''[2] On October 11, 2017, the defendant, accompanied by Ehring, appeared before the court, Blawie, J. Ehring informed the court that the defendant had called the state's attorney's office and expressed his intention to terminate public defender services and represent himself. The court asked the defendant if he wanted to represent himself. The defendant responded: ‘‘[T]hat's what it's looking like because [Ehring] has a problem with communication, and I feel like I can speak up for myself.'' The court began to canvass the defendant and stated that, if he represented himself, he would be held to the same standards as a lawyer. The court explained that, if he so requested, it would be willing to appoint standby counsel who could provide the defendant with assistance. The court then asked the defendant if he understood the elements of the offense with which he was charged, which led to a discussion about whether the defendant previously had a chance to review the arrest warrant.

The court did not finish its canvass of the defendant and instead began discussing the defendant's motion to regain his extradition rights. Before the hearing ended, the court ‘‘urge[d]'' the defendant ‘‘to try to collaborate with Attorney Ehring.'' The defendant reiterated that he was having difficulty communicating with Ehring and stated that he had the same issues with Butler. The court responded that ‘‘the right to counsel does not include the right to counsel of your choice'' and that it was ‘‘not yet making a finding of self-representation.''

On November 13, 2017, the court, Blawie, J., held a hearing and again discussed the issue of whether to terminate the public defender services and to allow the defendant to represent himself. The defendant argued that his motion to dismiss Ehring should be granted on the grounds that Ehring did not review his case with him and failed to investigate information that he had provided to Ehring. The defendant expressed frustration with the length of time he had been detained, stating: ‘‘I was arrested July 28 [2017]; I've been sitting here three months with nothing being said to me about my case.'' The court again started to canvass the defendant and informed him of the risks of self-representation. The court stated: ‘‘[W]hen you're indigent, you're entitled to the Office of Public Defender's services, but appointment of counsel does not mean appointment of counsel of your choice. You have two very capable lawyers in this office; they're both qualified to handle this matter . . . .'' The court reminded the defendant that it would appoint standby counsel upon his request but that having standby counsel was ‘‘far different . . . from having representation in a full capacity . . . .'' The court noted that Ehring had represented hundreds of people in the defendant's position over the course of thirty-two years as a public defender and that he had the defendant's ‘‘best interest in mind . . . .'' The court, however, did not finish its canvass at this time. Instead, at the end of the hearing, the court directed a judicial marshal to bring the defendant to a conference room in the courthouse so that he could speak privately with Ehring.

On December 13, 2017, the defendant appeared before the court, White, J., with Attorney Benjamin Aponte from the Office of the Public Defender. The state represented that the defendant had filed motions to remove Ehring from his case and noted that, during previous hearings at which these motions were heard, the court ‘‘did not get through the entire canvass.'' The state then requested that the court ask the defendant if he still wanted to represent himself and, if so, to canvass him.The following exchange occurred between the court and the defendant:

‘‘The Court: Okay. Mr. Williams, do you want to represent yourself
‘‘The Defendant: At a point in time, I felt like I had to speak up for myself and represent myself. Recently Attorney Aponte actually came-came and visited me in Bridgeport Correctional Center. He ha[s] taken the initiative to do that, so I will like to go forward with
Aponte, if I can
‘‘The Court: I'm going to take what you said as a no, that you don't want to represent yourself now Am I- is that correct?
‘‘The Defendant: Yes.''
The court continued the hearing with Aponte as counsel for the defendant.
On February 2, 2018, the state made an offer to resolve the case through a plea agreement in exchange for a sentence of ten years of incarceration, suspended after four years, followed by fifteen years of probation. The defendant rejected this offer. On the same date, the defendant appeared before the court, White, J., to address his decision to reject the offer. The court asked the defendant if he ‘‘had enough time to speak to [his] attorney about the offer . . . .'' The defendant responded, ‘‘no.'' The court, the defendant, Aponte, and the prosecutor then engaged in the following colloquy:
‘‘The Court: Okay. We'll pass it and talk to your lawyer.
‘‘[The Defendant]: Excuse me, I would like to speak on the record. May I address the court, please?
‘‘The Court: It's not a good idea, you might say something to hurt your own case and-
‘‘[The Defendant]: Not at all-sorry, Your Honor.
‘‘The Court: Okay. If you want to say something, I'll listen, but it's really not a good idea.
‘‘[The Defendant]: Honorable Judge White, I am the defendant, and I don't feel as if I'm being treated fairly in this matter here. It's been an ongoing case for nine months now. It's been-information on my-against me for nine months now. I've been in the state of Connecticut for six months, going on a complete seven, because I was arrested in New York City, and I've been held in my city jail for nineteen days, to be exact. And since I've been here in the state of Connecticut, I have [had] more than enough time to speak with lawyers, but they never showed up to speak to me, so I feel like I'm being treated unfairly. My eighth amendment[3] right is being violated once again. I previously dismissed Ehring, who's sitting over there to the left of me. And I feel like I need to initiate pro se and be given a law library or something to exercise my rights from here on because-
‘‘The Court: Sir, are you telling me you want to represent yourself?
‘‘[The Defendant]: I'm gonna have to-I'm going to have to.
‘‘The Court: No, you don't have to. You can't afford counsel, and you have counsel provided for you, so it's not true that, that-
‘‘[The Defendant]: Yes, I want to initiate pro se.
‘‘The Court: Okay. How far did you go in school?
‘‘[The Defendant]: G.E.D. equivalency of a high school diploma.
‘‘The Court: Okay. Have you ever represented yourself in a criminal case before?
‘‘[The Defendant]: No, I haven't. I'd be willing to do so.
‘‘The Court: Do you understand the elements of the offense that you're charged with?
‘‘[The Defendant]: Yes.
‘‘The Court: Do you understand the range of penalties?
‘‘[The Defendant]: Yes.
‘‘The Court: Do you understand that you're going to have to file motions on your own?
‘‘[The Defendant]: Yes.
‘‘The Court: Do you understand that you're gonna have to do legal research on your own?
‘‘[The Defendant]: Yes, and speaking of which, I filed two speedy trial motions-
‘‘The Court: Let me-sir, let me finish asking questions and then-
‘‘[The Defendant]: I'm sorry.
‘‘The Court: -I'll give you a chance to speak further.
‘‘[The Defendant]: Yes, Your Honor.

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