Appeal by defendant from a judgment dated 24 February 2005 by
Judge Michael E. Beale in Richmond County Superior Court. Heard in
the Court of Appeals 27 March 2006.
Attorney General Roy Cooper, by Special Deputy Attorney
General Kathryn Jones Cooper, for the State.
Susan J. Hall for defendant-appellant.
On 24 February 2005, a jury acquitted William Lewis Wall
(defendant) of communicating threats and found him guilty of
disorderly conduct. On the same date, Judge Beale sentenced
defendant to sixty days imprisonment, suspended forty-five days of
that sentence, and ordered him to serve an active sentence of
fifteen days in the county jail. From the judgment entered,
When defendant's case came on for trial, defendant's appointed
counsel informed the trial court that defendant wanted to represent
himself without the assistance of counsel. Thereafter, a colloquy
took place between the trial court and defendant in which the trialcourt informed defendant he had a right to have a lawyer represent
him and cautioned him about the hazards of representing himself.
Defendant was also allowed to consult with his appointed counsel
one last time before making his decision to proceed pro se. After
this consultation, defendant informed the trial court he want[ed
his] lawyer to withdraw himself in [his] case. Defendant then
signed a waiver of counsel indicating he would represent himself at
trial. The case proceeded to trial and the jury found defendant
guilty of disorderly conduct.
The dispositive issue in this case is whether the trial court
committed reversible error by allowing defendant to proceed pro se
in his trial. It is well-established that [o]nce a defendant
clearly and unequivocally states that he wants to proceed pro se
the trial court, to satisfy constitutional standards, must
determine whether the defendant knowingly, intelligently, and
voluntarily waives the right to in-court representation by
counsel. State v. Thomas
, 331 N.C. 671, 674, 417 S.E.2d 473, 476
(1992) (citation omitted). The inquiry required by N.C. Gen. Stat.
§ 15A-1242 of the North Carolina General Statutes satisfies these
constitutional requirements. Id.
This statute provides:
A defendant may be permitted at his election
to proceed in the trial of his case without
the assistance of counsel only after the trial
judge makes thorough inquiry and is satisfied
that the defendant:
(1) Has been clearly advised of his
right to the assistance of counsel,including his right to the
assignment of counsel when he is so
(2) Understands and appreciates the
consequences of this decision; and
(3) Comprehends the nature of the
charges and proceedings and the
range of permissible punishments.
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1242 (2005). A defendant's waiver of counsel
is not knowing, intelligent, or voluntary when the trial court
fails to ascertain whether defendant knows the consequences of his
decision, the nature of charges, and the range of permissible
punishments as required under N.C.G.S. § 15A-1242. State v. Evans
153 N.C. App. 313, 316, 569 S.E.2d 673, 675 (2002). The execution
of a written waiver is no substitute for compliance by the trial
court with N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1242. Id.
at 315, 569 S.E.2d at
Here, the record indicates the trial court informed defendant
he had a right to have a lawyer represent him and discussed with
him the consequences of his decision to represent himself. It is
further evident that defendant had been advised of his right to
assigned counsel because he had exercised the right and counsel
had been appointed to represent him. State v. Dunlap
, 318 N.C.
384, 389, 348 S.E.2d 801, 804 (1986). The record, however, does
not indicate the trial court made any inquiry to satisfy itself
defendant comprehended the range of permissible punishments as
required by N.C.G.S. § 15A-1242(3). Because the inquiry under
N.C.G.S. § 15A-1242 is mandatory and the trial court failed to make
the third inquiry mandated by this statute, we conclude the trialcourt committed prejudicial error in allowing defendant to proceed
to trial pro se
. See State v. Pruitt
, 322 N.C. 600, 603, 369
S.E.2d 590, 592 (1988) (The inquiry to be made by the trial court
under N.C.G.S. § 15A-1242 is mandatory and failure to conduct such
an inquiry is prejudicial error.). Accordingly, defendant is
entitled to a new trial. State v. Stanback
, 137 N.C. App. 583,
586, 529 S.E.2d 229, 230-31 (2000) (granting the defendant a new
trial where the trial court failed to make any inquiry to satisfy
itself the defendant comprehended the nature of the charges and
proceedings and the range of permissible punishments before
allowing him to proceed pro se
Because we have determined defendant is entitled to a new
trial, we need not address defendant's remaining arguments.
Chief Judge MARTIN and Judge GEER concur.
Report per Rule 30(e).
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