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Effective Criminal Defense

Burton v Davis, No. 13-55328 [March 10, 2016]

Burton v. Davis

Burton, twice before trial and again during trial, made motions to represent himself under Faretta. His motions were denied as his request included additional time to prepare and he asked that the trial date be continued. The court found the California Supreme Court’s decision contrary to federal law and affirmed the granting of the writ. The California Supreme Court rejected Burton’s argument that under federal law the court was required to grant a Faretta motion if made prior to trial unless it “made for the purpose of securing delay” and found that 9th Cir. Case law was “too rigid in circumscribing the discretion of the trial court.” Instead, the court applied its own rules that “a request is timely if made a ‘reasonable time’ before trial but is ‘addressed to the sound discretion of the trial court’ if made at a later time.” Finding that his request was not made a “reasonable time” before trial and that the court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion the State court denied his claim. Since this was a pre-AEDPA case the State conceded that 9th Cir. case law on timeliness rule applies, but, nevertheless, urged the Court to find that the motions were made for the “purpose of delay.” The district court found that Burton’s reasons for asserting his right to represent himself was legitimate and not for the purpose of delay and granted his habeas petition. The Court found, first, that the State court’s decision was contrary to the federal Constitution, as interpreted by its cases law. Because the State court failed to consider his claim using federal law, it was appropriate for the district court to determine the timeliness of Burton’s Faretta motions in the first instance. Because the California Supreme Court’s decision did not address Burton’s claim under federal law the district court found that it never addressed the issue of “whether Burton intended to delay the trial and, therefore, the district court did not need to give the state court findings the presumption of correctness to that factual finding required under the previous version of 2254. The 9th circuit disagreed with that analysis but found that the state court decision fell under the last exception to 2254(d) that the state court findings were not fairly supported by the record and affirmed. The court summarized its decision by stating, “we conclude that the district court was entitled to determine Burton’s purpose in seeking to represent himself. We reach this conclusion for two independent reasons. First, ‘[t]here was . . . no relevant state court finding to which deference was due . . . Second, the Frierson proceeding before the California Supreme Court did not afford Burton a full, fair, and adequate hearing on the timeliness of his Faretta requests.” Finally, finding that the district court “did not clearly err in finding that Burton’s Faretta requests were made for legitimate, not purely dilatory, reasons” it gave due deference to the district court’s factual findings and affirmed its decision.

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