While the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution grants a criminal defendant facing possible imprisonment the right to have an attorney at trial, there are occasions when defendants still insist on representing themselves. That scenario raises challenges for the trial judge trying to conduct a proper trial, particularly in front of a jury. What happens when the defendant representing himself is also in jail during trial was explored in a reported opinion handed down last week by Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals in a case called Sebastian Campbell v. State of Maryland.
The opinion indicates that a Montgomery County jury convicted the defendant of sexual abuse and rape of his own daughter, beginning when she was age 11. Prior to the trial, the Office of the Public Defender had been appointed to represent Campbell, but according to the trial judge without any good cause, he decided to fire the public defender and represent himself. Because Campbell was in custody, the trial judge raised the issue that sheriff’s deputies would need to be in proximity to the defendant during the trial.
The judge gave the defendant the choice, when asking questions of witnesses on the witness stand, of remaining seated at counsel table with the deputies positioned behind him pursuant to their security protocol, or if he chose to approach a witness to have a deputy next to him as he moved around the courtroom. The defendant ultimately objected to that choice, and after he was convicted appealed claiming that he was forced to defend himself “while conspicuously restrained by a tactical security team” in a perimeter around him.
The appellate Court held that the trial judge did not abuse his discretion in the handling of security during the trial. It noted that the defendant was not in prison clothes, and no one was allowed to mention that he was in custody. There was no indication in the record that the jury even knew he was incarcerated, and the presence of deputies just as easily could lead to the inference that they were present for routine security during a criminal trial.
The appellate Court also rejected defendant’s argument that the trial judge improperly denied his request to have the State pay for a psychiatric expert to assist in his defense. Having rejected a defense from the public defender, the defendant was held to have voluntarily given up his right to other services from that office such as retention of an expert.
Thomas Patrick Ryan is a partner in the Rockville law firm of McCarthy Wilson, which specializes in civil litigation.