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State v. Meyers

Supreme Court of Idaho

February 1, 2019

STATE OF IDAHO, Plaintiff-Respondent,
RICHARD PAUL MEYERS, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Ada County. Hon. Jonathan Medema, District Judge.

          Eric D. Fredericksen, State Appellate Public Defender, Boise, for Appellant. Ben P. McGreevy argued.

          Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Idaho Attorney General, Boise, for Respondent. Mark W. Olson argued.

          MOELLER, Justice

         The judgment of the district court is affirmed.

         Richard Meyers appeals from a judgment of conviction for grand theft on the grounds that he was denied his Sixth Amendment right to self-representation. For the reasons stated below, we affirm.


         Five days after his release from prison on an unrelated charge, Richard Meyers ("Meyers") was arrested for stealing a pickup truck. He was subsequently charged with felony grand theft, in violation of Idaho Code sections 18-2403(1), 18-2407(1)(b) and 18-2409, and assigned a public defender. With the assistance of his appointed counsel, Meyers pleaded not guilty and waived his right to a jury trial.

         Two months later, dissatisfied with his assigned counsel's performance, Meyers filed a motion for a "change of an attorney" with the district court. A hearing on this motion was held, wherein the district court inquired about Meyers's problems with his attorney and questioned his counsel regarding trial preparation. After observing the court's colloquy with his counsel, Meyers withdrew his motion, indicating that he wanted to give his attorney "a chance," and that he could work with his counsel.[1]

         On the day set for trial, Meyers's counsel expressed concerns about his client's mental capacity. The district court questioned Meyers and ordered that Meyers undergo a competency evaluation. Although the evaluation report concluded that Meyers was competent to stand trial, the State believed that this conclusion was too tenuous and requested a second evaluation, which the court granted. The second evaluation concluded that Meyers was not competent to stand trial. Thus, the court ordered Meyers to undergo mental health treatment before proceeding.

         After treatment, Meyers was deemed "fit to proceed" with trial, and his case was put back on the trial calendar. Throughout the competency hearings, Meyers repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction with the pace of the proceedings-at times directly addressing the court without the assistance or prior consent of his counsel. Consistent with this practice, when the court began proposing trial dates at the conclusion of the final competency hearing, Meyers spoke out, requesting that the court expedite the trial. The court responded that it was willing to set the trial for the week between Christmas and New Year's Day, but Meyers's counsel indicated that he was unavailable that week. Meyers requested that the court conduct the trial then and indicated that he would get a new public defender for the trial. Meyers's counsel indicated that this was not a possibility and the State expressed doubts about getting witnesses for the trial between the two holidays, so the court set the trial for January 25, 2017.

         Later that day, Meyers sent a letter to the judge requesting that his one-day bench trial be set between Christmas and New Year's Day. Additionally, he informed the judge that he had fired his public defender, was "prepared to represent" himself, and would present his defense "as soon as is possible." In the letter, Meyers explained that "part of the reason" he was dismissing his assigned counsel was because postponing the trial would interfere with his transitional housing funding. He also discussed other objections he had previously raised about his counsel's performance. Meyers concluded the letter with the following sentence: "I choose to exercise the right to defend myself in this matter."

         There are no indications in the letter that Meyers sent a copy to his public defender. The letter is stamped "received" the day after the hearing, and there is an electronic stamp on the letter indicating that it was scanned into the Odyssey system, but the record is silent as to what occurred after the district court received this letter. The letter was not written in the form of a motion for the appointment of new counsel; rather, it merely advised the court of Meyers's decision to "fire" his attorney of record and represent himself. Meyers did not submit a request for a hearing or attempt to schedule one. Nothing in the record suggests that the court ever saw the letter, or was made aware of its contents, prior to trial.

         The bench trial occurred, as previously scheduled, on January 25, 2017. At trial, Meyers was represented by new counsel from the public defender's office. Before the trial began, the court confirmed that Meyers wished to proceed without a jury and asked if there were any other matters that needed to be addressed before the trial began. Meyers, through his new attorney, confirmed his decision to proceed with a bench trial. Meyers's counsel requested that Meyers's restraints be partially removed to free his hand so he could communicate with his counsel, but he did not raise any other issues at that time. During the trial, Meyers cooperated with his new attorney and eventually, with his attorney conducting the direct examination, testified on his own behalf. His attorney handled all aspects of the trial, and at no point during the trial did Meyers or his ...

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