Rafael Ramos was charged with making criminal threats against Nancy Garcia. He asked for a new attorney three times. Each of these requests was denied. On the day of trial, he elected to represent himself, which is usually not a good idea.
Prior to opening statements, the trial court removed Ramos from the courtroom for disruptive conduct. After the court instructed Ramos to be quiet, Ramos stated, “I’m not having a fair trial, your honor. I’m not ready. I need a lawyer to represent me…I feel like this isn’t fair.” So the court removed Mr. Ramos from the courtroom. No standby counsel was appointed to represent him in his absence.
During Ramos’s period of exclusion, the prosecution presented its opening statement and conducted a direct examination of Garcia. Ramos was then permitted to return to the courtroom and participate in the remainder of the trial. How was he suppose to cross-examine a witness without hearing the direct examination?
The jury found him guilty.
On appeal, Ramos argues that (1) the court violated his Sixth Amendment right to counsel when it involuntarily excluded him from the courtroom without appointing substitute counsel and (2) the error requires automatic reversal.
The Court of Appeal agreed. The denial of counsel during the testimony of a key witness is a per se Sixth Amendment violation. Judgment is revered and Mr. Ramos gets a new trial.
Full Decision at http://www.leagle.com/decision/incaco20161121011
Anton Vialtsin, Esq.
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