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Freeman v. Pierce

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

December 27, 2017

James Freeman, Petitioner-Appellant,
Guy Pierce, Respondent-Appellee.

          Argued September 28, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 15 C 4994 - Samuel Der-Yeghiayan, Judge.

          Before BAUER, MANION, and HAMILTON, Circuit Judges.


         For over forty years, the Supreme Court has recognized that the Sixth Amendment implicitly entails a right to self-representation. Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806, 819 (1975). When Petitioner James Freeman, charged in Illinois state court with kidnapping and murder, filed a motion to proceed pro se, the judge denied his request and found that he did not possess the necessary experience and abilities to represent himself. Freeman ultimately proceeded to trial with a lawyer and was convicted.

         While acknowledging that the right to self-representation cannot be denied based on limited education and legal abilities, the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the denial of Freeman's right on the ground that his request was not unequivocal. The trial court's denial of Freeman's self-representation right, and the appellate court's affirmance of that decision, were both contrary to, and unreasonable applications of Faretta. Freeman petitioned this Court for a writ of habeas corpus, and since he has satisfied the stringent standards for habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1), he is entitled to the issuance of a writ.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Freeman's Initial Request to Proceed Pro Se

         On February 18, 2004, Freeman was indicted in Illinois in connection with the kidnapping and murder of a drug dealer, Robert Green. Following his arraignment, the court appointed public defender Kevin Foster as Freeman's counsel. In June, 2004, the State announced that it intended to seek the death penalty. Shortly thereafter, Freeman orally requested to proceed pro se. The trial court granted Freeman's request, and Foster withdrew as Freeman's counsel.

         The court held a status hearing on November 3, 2006, and invited Foster to attend. At the hearing, the court asked Freeman whether he intended to continue representing himself. The court repeatedly reminded Freeman of the perils of proceeding without a lawyer, particularly since the State was seeking the death penalty. Freeman remained firm in his desire to proceed pro se despite the court's strong encouragement to have Foster reappointed.

         The court then moved onto other matters and set a pretrial conference date in two months. However, Freeman informed the judge that a two-month gap between his court appearances would result in him being transferred to a jail much farther away. In order to avoid the transfer and to set a shorter status date, Freeman agreed to have counsel reappointed. Freeman asked whether Foster would be reappointed, and told the court that he "waived [Foster] for a reason." The court said the Public Defender's Office would determine which particular public defender would be assigned. Ultimately, Foster was reappointed as Freeman's counsel at the next status date.

         B. Freeman's Motion to Proceed Pro Se and for Standby Counsel

         On September 20, 2007, Freeman filed a motion titled "Motion to Proceed Pro Se and for Standby Counsel." In the motion, Freeman again stated that he wished to proceed pro se due to a "conflict of interest" with Foster, and that he did not believe he would "receive the full effective assistance of counsel from [Foster]." Twice in the motion, Freeman stated that he did not wish to be represented by Foster, or any other member of the Public Defender's Office. Freeman also asked the court to appoint two standby counsel. The motion concluded with a request that the court "grant this motion for leave to proceed Pro Se with standby counsel and accept this waiver as being knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily relinquished."

         Freeman's motion was taken up on October 19, 2007. The court indicated for the record that before it was "a pro se motion to proceed pro se and for standby counsel." After Freeman acknowledged that he filed the motion, the court began questioning Freeman about his request:

The Court: Mr. Freeman, you are not saying why it is that you say you feel Mr. Foster cannot give you effective assistance of counsel in your motion.
Freeman: I explained it in there.
The Court: No. You say that I believe that prejudice [will] result in the outcome with this lawyer representing you and that you won't receive the full effect of assistance of counsel from this attorney. That's a conclusion sir.
What facts are you presenting to me that would lead you to conclude that?
Freeman: I mean, based on me and this attorney communication and due to the representation that-since he been on my case, it haven't been-like when he comes and see me, we always arguing. You know he tell me that I think I am too smart. He kind of downgrade me. He shows signs of like this case can't be won and all that. I don't ...

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