FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION AND, IF
from the Circuit Court for Pinellas County; Chris Helinger,
L. Dimmig, II, Public Defender, and Richard J. D'Amico,
Special Assistant Public Defender, Bartow, for Appellant.
Moody, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and William Stone, Jr.,
Assistant Attorney General, Tampa, for Appellee.
Spera challenges his conviction and sentence for first-degree
murder. Spera was sentenced to life in prison following a
jury trial. He argues on appeal that the trial court erred in
failing to conduct a Faretta hearing after he
unequivocally requested to represent himself. We agree and
are therefore compelled to reverse for a new
March 21, 2018, Spera filed a pro se "Motion To
Faretta" which stated: "Comes Now, the defendant,
Gaetano Spera, pro-se, and Moves this honorable Court for a
Faretta hearing. As grounds for said Motion the following
[is] alleged[:] 1. Defendant[']s right to
self-representation." The court did not conduct a
Faretta hearing or rule on the motion. The trial
began on April 3, 2018, with Spera represented by counsel,
and the still-pending motion was not addressed.
"Under the United States Supreme Court's ruling in
Faretta, an accused has the right to
self-representation at trial." Tennis v. State,
997 So.2d 375, 377 (Fla. 2008). "[O]nce a defendant
elects to make an unequivocal request for
self-representation, pursuant to Faretta and this
Court's precedent, the trial court is obligated to hold a
hearing 'to determine whether the defendant is knowingly
and intelligently waiving his right to court-appointed
counsel.'" McCray v. State, 71 So.3d 848,
864 (Fla. 2011) (quoting Tennis, 997 So.2d at 378).
The "failure to take the preliminary step of holding a
hearing on a defendant's unequivocal pro se request
results in per se reversible error." Id.
Herron v. State, 113 So.3d 852, 853-54 (Fla. 2d DCA
2012). Without question, Spera's written motion was an
unequivocal request to represent himself. See Combs v.
State, 133 So.3d 564, 566 (Fla. 2d DCA 2014)
("Combs' statement that he was 'notifying the
court' that he wished to represent himself was
unequivocal."); Herron, 113 So.3d at 853-54
(holding that Herron's written motion, indicating that
"pursuant to rules 3.111(d) and 3.160(e) of Fla. R.Crim.
P. (2010)" Herron "waive[d] his right to be
represented by an attorney" and" 'assert[ed]
his constitutional right to represent himself' as
established in Faretta," was an unequivocal
request for self-representation); McKinley v. State,
261 So.3d 599, 599-600 (Fla. 4th DCA 2019) (holding that
McKinley's repeated assertions that he wanted to
represent himself and would represent himself were
unequivocal); Hooker v. State, 152 So.3d 799, 801-02
(Fla. 4th DCA 2014) (holding that Hooker's statement to
the court that he would "like to exercise [his] sixth
amendment right to go pro se" was an unequivocal request
for self-representation); Rodriguez v. State, 982
So.2d 1272, 1273-74 (Fla. 3d DCA 2008) (holding that
Rodriguez's statement at the start of trial that he would
"prefer to represent [him]self" was an unequivocal
request for self-representation).
State contends that Spera's request was equivocal because
he did not also request to dismiss his counsel. While a
request to dismiss counsel may go hand in hand with a request
for self-representation, the failure to explicitly indicate
one's desire to discharge counsel does not otherwise make
a clear request for self-representation any less so. Cf.
Hooker, 152 So.3d at 801-02; Rodriguez, 982
So.2d at 1273-74. This case is distinguishable from
McCray v. State, 71 So.3d 848, 868 (Fla. 2011), in
which the supreme court determined that McCray's request
for self-representation was equivocal because "the
record makes clear that McCray . . . sought to represent
himself while simultaneously having counsel assist him."
We have no such record in this case.
Spera's request, which was made approximately two weeks
before trial, was not untimely. Compare Laramee v.
State, 90 So.3d 341, 345 (Fla. 5th DCA 2012) ("Nor
was Mr. Laramee's request [for self-representation]
untimely, as it was made one week before trial. While a
defendant's request for self-representation may be
summarily denied if not timely asserted, ordinarily, a
request is timely if made prior to the trial's
commencement."), with Lambert v. State, 864
So.2d 17, 18 (Fla. 2d DCA 2003) (concluding that the trial
court did not err in denying the untimely request for
self-representation made midtrial), and Davis v.
State, 162 So.3d 326, 327 (Fla. 3d DCA 2015) (same).
Finally, Spera did not waive the issue by proceeding to trial
with appointed counsel. See Herron, 113 So.3d at
because the trial court failed to conduct a Faretta inquiry
following Spera's unequivocal request to proceed pro se,
we are constrained to reverse the judgment and sentence and
remand for a new trial.