STATE v. MICHAEL D. PIRES, SR., SC 18742
Judicial District of New London
Criminal; Whether Defendant was Deprived of Constitutional Right to Self-Representation. The defendant, who stood charged with murder, requested at a pretrial hearing that the trial court remove his public defender from the case. The trial court found that there was no cause for dismissing defense counsel. In response to the defendant's contention that he had a constitutional right to an attorney, the trial court stated that as an indigent defendant, he had the right to counsel but not the right to choose his own counsel. The trial court then called a recess so that the defendant and his attorney could try to work things out. Afterwards, defense counsel reported that the defendant refused to discuss strategy with her, that he wanted to represent himself and that she had told him that she did not believe that the court would allow him to represent himself on a murder charge. The court told the defendant that he needed to communicate with his attorney, ordered that the case be put on the firm trial list and concluded the hearing. Defense counsel later moved to withdraw. The trial court granted the motion and, without objection by the defendant, appointed new counsel. Subsequently, at the defendant's sentencing hearing, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss his new counsel. Noting that the defendant supported his motion with argument only about the evidence in the case, the trial court found that the defendant had not presented any reason for granting his motion. Before the Appellate Court, the defendant claimed that the trial court improperly denied him his constitutional rights to self-representation and due process by failing to canvass him in accordance with Practice Book § 44-3, which governs the trial court's inquiry into a defendant's waiver of the right to counsel. The Appellate Court (122 Conn. App. 729) held that the trial court did not violate the defendant's constitutional rights because the defendant's statements at the pretrial hearing and in his motion to dismiss counsel did not constitute clear and unequivocal requests to represent himself that would trigger the trial court's obligation under § 44-3. In this certified appeal, the Supreme Court will consider whether the Appellate Court properly determined that the defendant was not deprived of his constitutional right to self-representation.