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Criminal defendants wanting to represent themselves at trial had better be on their best behavior at all times. On Thursday, the California Supreme Court expanded the law by ruling that defendants who misbehave not only inside the courtroom but also outside could forfeit the constitutional right to self-representation. “Ultimately, the effect, not the location, of the misconduct and its impact on the core integrity of the trial will determine whether termination is warranted,” Justice Janice Rogers Brown wrote for a unanimous court. In the case at hand, however, the justices felt the court record wasn’t sufficient to determine whether murder defendant David Carson’s out-of-court conduct was severe enough to deserve termination of his pro per status. The court remanded the case to the trial court for a full hearing. Carson was sentenced to six years, plus 50 years to life, for several crimes, including the 1999 fatal shooting of drug dealer Eddie Rodriguez in North Hollywood. Before trial, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Charles Peven had granted Carson’s request to represent himself, but he changed his mind several months later after deciding that the defendant had acted improperly during discovery. A new investigator had mistakenly given Carson an unredacted copy of a “murder book” — a notebook that included witnesses’ addresses, telephone numbers and criminal histories. Prosecutors argued that Carson’s acquisition of the book was improper, considering that he had previously tried to suborn perjury, fabricate an alibi and intimidate a prosecution witness — all while represented by a lawyer. The ruling did not specify if Carson had requested the murder book, but said that he claimed he “did not know what he was being handed.” Peven agreed and terminated Carson’s self-representation. Carson’s standby lawyer, Curtis Leftwich of Van Nuys, Calif., was ordered to assume full representation. The high court’s ruling on Thursday expands on Ferrel v. Superior Court, 20 Cal.3d 888, a 1978 ruling in which the court held that disruptive in-court conduct could be the basis for terminating self-representation. The same should hold true for outside conduct that threatens the trial’s integrity, the justices said Thursday. Even so, the court ruled that each case must be evaluated on its own merits. The trial judge must decide if there are alternative sanctions and whether the defendant has been warned. In addition, the court held, termination of pro per status must be based on “some evidence” that the trial was threatened. “Unsubstantiated representations, even by the prosecutor, much less rumor, speculation or innuendo, will not suffice,” Brown wrote. The ultimate decision, she said, will be left to the trial judge’s discretion. L.A.-based Deputy Attorney General Xiomara Costello, who represented the state, couldn’t be reached for comment. San Francisco attorney Chris Redburn, who represented Carson on appeal, focused on his client’s personal victory, rather than the overall ruling. “I am gratified,” he said in a prepared statement, “that Mr. Carson, who did a very creditable job of representing himself, will finally have the chance to do so after so long a fight.” The ruling is People v. Carson, 05 C.D.O.S. 1055.

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