FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE MOTION FOR REHEARING AND
DISPOSITION THEREOF IF FILED
appeal from the Circuit Court for Duval County. Mark Hulsey,
Thomas, Public Defender, Danielle Jorden, Assistant Public
Defender, Tallahassee, for Appellant.
Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Jason W. Rodriguez, Assistant
Attorney General, Tallahassee, for Appellee.
Jerry Jerome Holmes, appeals his convictions and sentences
for aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and possession of
cannabis, and argues that the trial court reversibly erred by
denying his request to represent himself. Finding that the
trial court incorrectly denied Appellant's request for
self-representation, we reverse and remand for a new trial.
May 8, 2014, hearing, the trial court conducted a
Faretta inquiry, during which it explained to
Appellant the advantages of having a lawyer and the
disadvantages of self-representation. Appellant testified
that he was fifty-two years old, he can read and write, he
has no difficulty understanding English, he has a tenth grade
education, he was not currently under the influence of drugs
or alcohol, he was diagnosed with and treated for bipolar
disorder and manic depression in 2001, he did not have any
physical problems that would hinder self-representation, he
had never represented himself at trial, and he had read very
little about the law and rules governing a trial. When the
trial court asked Appellant whether he was certain that he
did not want an attorney, he stated, "No, sir, I'm
not certain, but I know I'm illiterate to the law . . .
." The trial court found Appellant competent to waive
his right to counsel, and found that he did so knowingly and
intelligently. At the end of the hearing, however, Appellant
changed his mind and accepted counsel.
May 28, 2014, hearing, the trial court conducted another
Faretta inquiry. Appellant again testified that he
can read and write, he has no difficulty understanding
English, he was not currently under the influence of any
drugs or alcohol, he had no physical problems that would
hinder self-representation, and he had never represented
himself at trial and had not read anything about the law or
rules governing trial. Appellant further testified that he
has a tenth grade education, but then corrected himself and
stated he has an eighth grade education; he had been
diagnosed with and treated for paranoid schizophrenia and
manic depression, but had never been hospitalized because of
those illnesses; and he was certain he did not want an
appointed attorney. This time, the trial court denied
Appellant's request for self-representation and announced
its ruling as follows:
The last time we were in court, I think was two or three
weeks ago, you told me that you did not feel competent to
represent yourself in this case. Based on the questions and
answers you've given today, and based on that statement
less than a month ago, I'm going to find that you are not
competent to waive counsel . . . .
convicted Appellant of aggravated battery with a deadly
weapon, and he pled nolo contendere to possession of
cannabis. This appeal followed.
court's decision on a request for self-representation is
reviewed for an abuse of discretion. McGirth v.
State, 209 So.3d 1146, 1157 (Fla. 2017). A person
accused of a crime has a constitutional right to represent
himself or herself. Neal v. State, 132 So.3d 949,
950 (Fla. 1st DCA 2014) (citing Faretta v.
California, 422 U.S. 806 (1975), and Pasha v.
State, 39 So.3d 1259 (Fla. 2010)). A defendant seeking
to waive the right to counsel must be competent to waive the
right, but need not be competent to represent himself or
herself. State v. Bowen, 698 So.2d 248, 251 (Fla.
1997). The exception to the general rule is when the accused
suffers from severe mental illness to the point where he or
she is not competent to conduct trial proceedings by himself
or herself. Neal, 132 So.3d at 950-51 (explaining
that "[t]he accused need have no legal experience nor
any special ability. It is enough that the accused understand
the right to be represented by counsel and decide voluntarily
to proceed without counsel, assuming severe mental illness
does not preclude self-representation" (citing
Indiana v. Edwards, 554 U.S. 164, 178 (2008)). Thus,
it is error to deny a defendant's unequivocal request to
represent himself, regardless of his legal skills or the
complexity of the case, if the trial court determines that
the defendant made a knowing and intelligent waiver of the
right to counsel and "does not suffer from severe mental
illness to the point where the defendant is not competent to
conduct trial proceedings by himself."
Id. (citing Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.111(d)(3)).
Neal, we reversed the appellant's convictions
because the trial court failed to apply the correct legal
standard in denying his request to proceed pro se
where it did not even find whether his request was knowing
and intelligent or whether he suffered from severe mental
illness to the point that he was not competent to conduct
trial proceedings by himself. 132 So.3d at 951. Similarly, in
Williams v. State, we remanded for a new trial upon
finding that the trial court failed to conduct a legally
sufficient Faretta hearing where it "did not
consider whether Williams' waiver of counsel was knowing
and intelligent and whether he was mentally competent to
represent himself, and impermissibly denied Williams'
self-representation request based on a perceived lack of
legal training and experience." 163 So.3d 740, 741 (Fla.
1st DCA 2015); see also Wilson v. State, 201 So.3d
203, 205 (Fla. 2d DCA 2016) ("[T]he judge focused on the
defendant's legal knowledge and denied the request to
proceed pro se expressly because the defendant was not
qualified to represent himself. The court made no finding as
to the correct standard-whether the defendant was knowingly
and intelligently waiving his right to counsel. Accordingly,
we must reverse . . . ."); Williams v. State,
163 So.3d 694, 697-98 (Fla. 4th DCA 2015) (remanding for a
new trial upon concluding that the trial court applied the
incorrect legal standard in denying the appellant's
request for self-representation ...