24 March 2004

Monyca wrote to comment on the case where the Defendant slugged his own attorney mid-trial and states that she thinks in New York such an attack might constitute a waiver of counsel. She gave me a case name (Gilchrist v. O'Keefe) but, as I have to pay outrageous fees to use WestLaw's sources outside Virginia, I have not been able to confirm this.

It did get me curious about what the standard for constructive waiver might be in Virginia so I did a little research. It seems that in Virginia most cases of constructive waiver (also called de facto waiver) come from dilatory activities on the part of the Defendant. An example would be Bailey v. Commonwealth:
In the course of Bailey's trial, the trial court appointed three attorneys, sequentially, to represent him. While represented by counsel, Bailey filed pro se motions and insisted on certain unreasonable strategies. Additionally, Bailey failed to cooperate with his attorneys and expressed dissatisfaction with their efforts despite their diligent representation.

Daniel Hall, Bailey's first attorney, filed several speedy trial motions and vigorously argued on Bailey's behalf at trial. Yet, at the outset of trial, Bailey complained that Hall had not subpoenaed certain witnesses. The trial judge did not credit these complaints, observing that Bailey was "talking, rambling on about family members. I assume he would have recourse to write or call his family members if [he] wanted to tell you about it. This matter has continued on, and on, and on, so we're going to proceed with the case." After his conviction, Bailey, in disregard of Hall's status as his attorney, filed various pro se pleadings and also filed a habeas corpus petition alleging Hall's ineffective representation. Hall moved to withdraw, stating that Bailey's conduct made his continued representation impossible. Hall's motion was granted.

The court appointed Paul Bland as Bailey's second attorney. Despite the appointment, Bailey continued to file pro se motions and, almost immediately after his appointment, Bland moved to withdraw, noting that Bailey told him that he had filed "habeas on all of his cases, including the one that counsel previously represented him on in 1992." Bland believed that Bailey's statement "created an adversarial relationship with counsel, and counsel [felt] it appropriate to withdraw." The court granted Bland's motion.

Philip DiStanislao was appointed as Bailey's third attorney. Despite the appointment of yet a third attorney, Bailey filed a pro se pleading on June 1, 1998. Barely more than one month after his appointment, DiStanislao moved to withdraw as counsel because Bailey set forth unreasonable terms and conditions for his representation, requiring him to communicate with Bailey by mail only and not in person. DiStanislao stated that these conditions "ma[de] it impossible for him to provide effective representation for Mr. Bailey as it is extremely unlikely that any positive form of attorney-client relationship can exist."

[Thereafter Bailey represented himself]
While I didn't actually find any examples of a Defendant attacking his counsel I think it would be a constructive waiver of the right to counsel under the test set out in McNair v. Commonwealth:
[Either] (1) the defendant placed his counsel in a position that precluded effective representation and thereby constructively discharged his counsel or (2) through his obstructionist behavior, dilatory conduct, or bad faith, the defendant de facto waived counsel.
I must say that I'm pretty sure that punching your own attorney would be "obstructionist behavior."

Addendum: Monyca wrote back to apologize for not realizing that some of us have to pay for WestLaw. Actually, it's not her fault I couldn't find the case, if I'd have taken 2 whole minutes to look on FindLaw it's right here.

Waddling Thunder has provided excerpts from the decision and some analysis.

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