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National Crime Victim Law Institute

State v. Jones, 459 P.3d 841 (Mont. 2020)

May 21, 2020

Defendant was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and aggravated assault against the victim, his girlfriend. On appeal, defendant argued, inter alia, that the trial court violated his constitutional right of self-representation by refusing his request to represent himself at his fourth omnibus hearing, but otherwise allowing him to represent himself for the duration of the case. The court found that the trial court did not err as defendant’s “purported waiver of the right to counsel” at the fourth omnibus hearing was not made knowingly. The court explained that defendant’s response to the trial court’s question about why he wished to represent himself showed that he mistakenly perceived a correlation between self-representation and being released from jail. The court noted that when defendant later renewed his request of self-representation, the court set a hearing, at which point the court found that defendant intelligently, knowingly and voluntarily waived his right to counsel and granted his request of self-representation. The court continued, noting that the record in the case “compels certain observations[,]” including that the defensibility of the policy justification for the right of self-representation—respect for the individual—diminishes in cases such as this, where “it affords a defendant the opportunity to personally intimidate or interrogate the victim.” The court explained that the trial court “had the unenviable task of ensuring [defendant], who stood accused of brutally beating [the victim], ‘had a fair chance to present his own case in his own way,’ including interviewing [the victim].” The court also noted that the trial court permitted defendant—during trial—to interview the victim during a recess prior to her testimony, but set parameters that included that it would not be a one-on-one interview, that law enforcement and the prosecutor would be present during the interview, and that defendant was warned that “[y]ou’ve got a right to question [the victim] about what her testimony will be. You don’t have a right to intimidate her.” The court continued, explaining that “[o]ther measures may also be suitable to protect a defendant’s right of self-representation and to protect a victim from further abuse[,]” and that the particular measures would depend on the facts and circumstances of each case. The court then held, inter alia, that defendant’s right of self-representation was not violated and affirmed his convictions.