A judge did not conduct “a sufficiently searching inquiry” of a defendant who wanted to represent himself in a criminal case, a Brooklyn appeals panel has ruled as it called for a retrial. The trial judge, then-Nassau County Court Judge John Kase, “failed to conduct a sufficiently searching inquiry of the defendant to be reasonably certain that he understood the dangers and disadvantages of self-representation,” the Appellate Division, Second Department, said in People v. Bristol, 2009-07952.
The unsigned ruling stems from Marcel Bristol’s conviction on second- and third-degree grand larceny. Although the panel found Bristol’s guilty verdict was not against the weight of the evidence, it said his waiver of his right to counsel was “ineffective.”
Bristol indicated before trial that he did not want his assigned counsel representing him. Kase gave Bristol the option of appearing pro se but recommended having the attorney represent him. In the alternate, Kase said Bristol could have the attorney “stand by” and offer “guidance.” Bristol said he had “no objection to” representing himself, which Kase allowed. But the panel noted that trial courts must adequately warn defendants of the risk of appearing pro se and “delve” into the defendant’s “ age, education, occupation, previous exposure to legal procedures and other relevant factors.” The panel concluded that since Kase “failed to ensure that the defendant’s waiver of his right to counsel was made knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily,” Bristol is entitled to a retrial.
Justices Reinaldo Rivera (See Profile), John Leventhal (See Profile), L. Priscilla Hall (See Profile) and Sheri Roman (See Profile) sat on the panel, which heard arguments on Dec. 18. Kase, who is now in private practice, retired from the bench on Dec. 31 after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70.