Case Summaries

Each week, TDCAA staff members summarize the most important cases from Texas and federal criminal courts and provide insightful commentary on how those cases could impact the criminal justice system as well as a link to the opinions. Find a library of previous Weekly Case Summaries here.

Summaries

November 15, 2019

Texas Court of Appeals

Cole v. State

Nos. 09-18-00124-CR and 09-18-00125-CR         11/13/19

Issue:

May a trial court require a defendant to be represented at trial by counsel because the court believes the defendant does not have the legal training needed to conduct his defense?

Holding:

No. A defendant’s right to represent himself at trial cannot be denied based on the defendant’s lack of legal education or training. When a defendant voluntarily and intelligently waives his right to counsel after being admonished about the danger and disadvantages of doing so, the trial court must honor the defendant’s choice. Additionally, the decision must be honored even if doing so will likely work against the defendant’s best interests. Read Opinion.

Commentary:

This case serves as a reminder that the constitutional right to self-representation is equal to the constitutional right to counsel. Many trial courts have difficulties with pro se proceedings. A prosecutor might make a difference by reminding the trial judge that the right to self-representation is an important right even if the defendant will harm himself by exercising it. Remind the judge that he can ask the defendant about his mental status, any mental illness, and if he is being medicated in the jail (or on bond). If the defendant is actually trying to delay the trial by invoking his right to self-representation, make a record showing how that is so. A prosecutor can ask the court to appoint a standby lawyer to take over the case when the defendant gets frustrated or realizes the trial won’t be delayed, as is often the case. Prosecutors should ensure their courts have good admonishment scripts—a detailed list of pitfalls may be more persuasive than simply repeating that self-representation is a bad idea.

TDCAA is pleased to offer these unique case summaries from the U.S. Supreme Court, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the Texas Supreme Court, the Texas Courts of Appeals and the Texas Attorney General. In addition to the basic summaries, each case will have a link to the full text opinion and will offer exclusive prosecutor commentary explaining how the case may impact you as a prosecutor. The case summaries are for the benefit of prosecutors, their staff members, and members of the law enforcement community. These summaries are NOT a source of legal advice for citizens. The commentaries expressed in these case summaries are not official statements by TDCAA and do not represent the opinions of TDCAA, its staff, or any member of the association. Please email comments, problems, or questions to Monica Mendoza.