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Hooks v. State

Supreme Court of Florida

December 19, 2019

SYLVESTER HOOKS, Petitioner,
v.
STATE OF FLORIDA, Respondent.

         NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION AND, IF FILED, DETERMINED

          Application for Review of the Decision of the District Court of Appeal - Certified Great Public Importance First District - Case Nos. 1D16-368, 1D16-369, & 1D16-370 (Leon County)

          Andy Thomas, Public Defender, and Danielle Jorden, Assistant Public Defender, Second Judicial Circuit, Tallahassee, Florida, for Petitioner

          Ashley Moody, Attorney General, Trisha Meggs Pate, Bureau Chief, and Virginia Chester Harris, Assistant Attorney General, Tallahassee, Florida, for Respondent

          CANADY, C.J.

         In this case, we consider whether a trial judge must ask certain questions during a Faretta[1] inquiry. We have for review the decision of the First District Court of Appeal in Hooks v. State, 236 So.3d 1122 (Fla. 1st DCA 2017). There, the district court certified the following question of great public importance:

IS A FARETTA INQUIRY INVALID IF THE COURT DOES NOT EXPLICITLY INQUIRE AS TO THE DEFENDANT'S AGE, EXPERIENCE, AND UNDERSTANDING OF THE RULES OF CRIMINAL PROCEDURE?

Id. at 1132. We have jurisdiction. See art. V, § 3(b)(4), Fla. Const.

         As the First District did below, we answer the certified question in the negative. In doing so, we recede from Aguirre-Jarquin v. State, 9 So.3d 593, 602 (Fla. 2009), and McGirth v. State, 209 So.3d 1146, 1157 (Fla. 2017), to the extent that those decisions state a categorical rule that a trial court conducting a Faretta colloquy "must inquire as to the defendant's age, experience, and understanding of the rules of criminal procedure." McGirth, 209 So.3d at 1157 (quoting Aguirre-Jarquin, 9 So.3d at 602). As we explain, the pertinent statements in Aguirre-Jarquin and McGirth conflict with the governing rule of criminal procedure and misconstrue our caselaw.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Petitioner, Sylvester Hooks, faced trial on two drug charges[2] and was also alleged to have violated his probation. Prior to jury selection, Hooks sought to waive his right to counsel. The trial judge gave him a document titled "Self-Representation Advisory Form/Trial" and later asked whether Hooks had read the form "real carefully." Hooks replied that he had. The judge next briefly stated the disadvantages of pro se representation and reminded Hooks that his decision to forgo counsel must be made knowingly and voluntarily. The judge then inquired whether Hooks still wished to represent himself. When Hooks responded in the affirmative, the trial judge accepted the signed and initialed form. The trial judge accordingly discharged Hooks' attorney, and Hooks went on to represent himself during jury selection.

         Four days later, before trial began, the trial judge asked whether Hooks wished to continue representing himself. Hooks said that he did. The case proceeded to trial, in which Hooks was found guilty of both charges. The trial court further determined that Hooks had violated his probation. At a subsequent proceeding where he was represented by counsel, Hooks was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment.

         Hooks appealed to the First District, arguing that the trial court conducted an insufficient Faretta colloquy. Hooks, 236 So.3d at 1124. According to Hooks, the inquiry was improper "because the court failed to ask questions about his age, education, mental or physical health, ability to read and write, drug use, or prior self-representation." Id. at 1129. The First District rejected his argument, concluding that the history of Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.111(d)(3) made clear that "the failure to ask any specific questions does not render a Faretta inquiry inadequate." Hooks, 236 So.3d at 1129.

         The First District recognized that rule 3.111(d)(3) once provided that a waiver of counsel was invalid if it appeared the defendant could not make an informed choice "because of his mental condition, age, education, experience, the nature or complexity of the case, or other factors." Id. at 1125 (quoting Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.111(d)(3) (1973)). But the First District noted that rule 3.111(d)(3) was amended after this Court decided State v. Bowen, 698 So.2d 248 (Fla. 1997). Hooks, 236 So.3d at 1126. In Bowen, the First District explained, this Court held that Faretta only requires a trial court to "determine[] that a competent defendant of his or her own free will has 'knowingly and intelligently' waived the right to counsel." Hooks, 236 So.3d at 1126 (quoting Bowen, 698 So.2d at 251). The district court observed that rule 3.111(d)(3) was subsequently revised to eliminate the requirement that a trial court inquire about the identified factors. Id.

         "Thus," the First District determined that the current version of "[r]ule 3.111(d) reflects the understanding that Faretta does not require" the trial court to ask any specific questions. Hooks, 236 So.3d at 1126. Although the defendant's age, experience, or education "may be relevant" considerations when "determining competence," the First District concluded that "failure to inquire" about "any of the[se] factors does not automatically" mandate reversal. Id. at 1127.

         Instead, the First District opined, Faretta only requires a trial court to find both "that the defendant is competent to waive counsel" and "that the defendant understands its advice regarding the dangers and disadvantages of self-representation." Hooks, 236 So.3d at 1127. According to the district court, the trial judge warned Hooks, both verbally and "through the self-representation form," about "the dangers" of proceeding without counsel. Id. at 1129. And there was "nothing in the record that would have given the court 'reason to doubt the defendant's competence.'" Id. (citing Godinez v. Moran, 509 U.S. 389, 401 n.13 (1993)). The First District therefore held that the Faretta inquiry was adequate. See Hooks, 236 So.3d at 1129.

         But the district court identified language in our decision in Aguirre-Jarquin "that appears to conflict with th[e] well-settled rule" that a Faretta inquiry is not invalid for failing to address specific factors. Hooks, 236 So.3d at 1131. In Aguirre-Jarquin, the First District acknowledged, this Court wrote that "[i]n order to ensure the waiver is knowing and voluntary, the trial court must inquire as to the defendant's age, experience, and understanding of the rules of criminal procedure." Hooks, 236 So.3d at 1131 (alteration in original) (emphasis added) (quoting Aguirre-Jarquin, 9 So.3d at 602). The First District expressed concern that Aguirre-Jarquin contradicts "other supreme court decisions that reject an approach mandating specific questions." Hooks, 236 So.3d at 1131. And while the First District thought it "tempting to view the disputed ...


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