Legal Articles


Posted on Mon, Oct. 31, 2005  

Supreme Court: Inmate denied law library access should not receive new trial

Associated Press

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court on Monday reversed an appeals court ruling that a convicted California carjacker who was given scant access to a prison law library should receive a new trial.

The decision overturns the ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco that Garcia Espitia, who acted as his own lawyer, was denied his constitutional right to visit the library.

Espitia's argument that he was entitled to library access under the Sixth Amendment right to self representation was denied by lower courts.

But the 9th Circuit reversed those decisions, ruling that "the lack of any pretrial access to law books violated Espitia's constitutional right to represent himself ... "

In overturning the case, the Supreme Court said there weren't guidelines as to whether inmates can access law libraries in the 1975 Faretta v. California decision, which said inmates could represent themselves.

The ruling "says nothing about any specific legal aid that the State owes a pro se criminal defendant," the court wrote.

Espitia filed "repeated requests and court orders" challenging his lack of access to the library and received only about four hours of visits, according to the two-page ruling.

The case was sent back to the 9th Circuit for review.

The case is Kane v. Espitia.

California Supreme Court: Counsel yourself at own peril 

DAVID KRAVETS, AP Legal Affairs Writer 
Tuesday, March 18, 2003 
©2003 Associated Press 


(03-18) 00:27 PST SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- 

The old adage that every criminal defendant who acts as their own attorney has a fool for a client has taken new meaning after the California Supreme Court ruled that trial judges no longer may instruct self-represented defendants that they can refuse to testify. 

For 45 years, California judges have been required to inform defendants who are representing themselves that they have the constitutional privilege against compelled self-incrimination. The seven-member court unanimously ruled Monday that defendants found competent under federal standards to represent themselves cannot receive guidance from the bench. 

If defendants refuse a court-appointed attorney, they represent themselves at their own peril, the court ruled. 

"A defendant who chooses to represent himself or herself after knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily forgoing the assistance of counsel assumes the risk of his or her own ignorance, and cannot compel the trial court to make up for counsel's absence," Chief Justice Ronald M. George wrote. 

The federal government and most of the states don't require the instruction. The justices said there wasn't any rational explanation for the rule, which was first imposed by the state's appellate courts. 

"Justification for singling out this privilege alone for such differential treatment never has been clear, and, upon full consideration, simply cannot be discerned," George wrote. 

The case involved Mark Barnum, a High Desert State Prison inmate accused of jailhouse battery on a prison official. Barnum demanded he represent himself and a judge found him competent to do so -- but declined to give him the instruction. 

Barnum testified twice and gave different version of events than testimony from witnesses. He was sentenced to 25-to-life under California's three-strikes law. 

Barnum appealed, claiming the judge should have told him he needn't testify. The 2nd District Court of Appeals found that the instruction was no longer required. 

The case is People v. Barnum, 3095872. 

Editors: David Kravets has been covering state and federal courts for a decade. 
©2003 Associated Press 

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