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Imani v. Pollard

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

June 22, 2016

Rashaad A. Imani, Petitioner-Appellant,
William Pollard, Respondent-Appellee.

          Argued January 13, 2016

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin No. 11-cv-677-wmc - William M. Conley, Chief Judge.

          Before Wood, Chief Judge, and Bauer and Hamilton, Circuit Judges.

          Hamilton, Circuit Judge.

         The Sixth Amendment guarantees a mentally competent defendant the right to represent himself in a criminal trial, no matter how foolish that choice may seem. Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806 (1975). This constitutional right "exists to affirm the dignity and autonomy of the accused and to allow the presentation of what may, at least occasionally, be the accused's best possible defense." McKaskle v. Wiggins, 465 U.S. 168, 176–77 (1984). A judge may not deny a competent defendant's timely invocation of his right. See Faretta, 422 U.S. at 835–36.

         Petitioner-appellant Rashaad Imani tried to exercise his right to represent himself in a criminal prosecution in the Wisconsin state courts. The trial judge prevented him from doing so. Imani was convicted at a trial in which he was represented by a lawyer he did not want. A divided Wisconsin Supreme Court affirmed his conviction, finding that Imani was not competent to represent himself and had not made a sufficiently knowing and voluntary choice to do so. That decision was an error. Further, it was contrary to and an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law as determined by United States Supreme Court decisions, thus satisfying the stringent standard for federal habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). Imani is entitled to a writ of habeas corpus ordering either his prompt release or a new trial.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         In 2006, petitioner Rashaad Imani and his cousin, Raziga Imani, were charged with robbing a bank in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. (We refer to petitioner Rashaad Imani simply as "Imani.") While fleeing the police after the robbery, a robber forced a driver to give him a ride. Police later recovered Imani's fingerprints from the car's door handle, and the driver identified Imani, first in a photo array and later in court at a preliminary hearing. Prosecutors charged Imani with armed robbery and possession of a firearm by a felon. Raziga Imani was also charged. Shortly before trial he pled guilty, and he then testified against Imani at trial.

         Before trial, Imani's lawyer moved to suppress the driver's identification, arguing that it had been tainted by a television news report about the robbery. After the court denied the motion, Imani invoked his right to represent himself. He said he was not satisfied with his lawyer, who had not shown a recording of the television news report to the driver at the suppression hearing. Imani said his lawyer's representation of him at the hearing gave him doubts about the lawyer's ability to represent him "well enough" at trial. Imani also said he was not satisfied with his lawyer's efforts to investigate the fingerprint evidence against him. Imani acknowledged that he might not be as "eloquent in speech" as his lawyer, but he said he had "been dealing with this case for over a year now" and knew how to express himself well. Imani added, "ain't nobody going to represent myself better than me."

         After Imani explained his reasons for choosing to represent himself, the judge asked: "What do you want to say to me to convince me that you're competent to represent yourself?" Imani said he had been "working on this for 13 months, " but the judge dismissed Imani's work on his case as "irrelevant and unconvincing." The judge then directed Imani to focus on his "formal education." Imani said that he had a tenth-grade education, that he read at a college level, and that he had appeared in court for at least five previous criminal matters, although he was represented by lawyers in those cases.

         The judge said Imani could not represent himself, treating the matter as a request that required the judge's permission. The judge said that Imani did not have a "sufficiently rational basis" to justify his decision. He described Imani's decision as "a flippant short term or immature decision" that should not be given effect, and he described Imani's reasons for wanting to represent himself as "episodic driven, " stemming from his loss of the suppression motion. The judge also cited the need to keep the trial on schedule and the increased difficulty of preparing for what he then expected to be a two-defendant trial. At that time, however, there were still four weeks until the trial was scheduled to begin, and Imani said that he had no problem with the trial date. The judge said that, upon a further request, he would reconsider Imani's motion. There was no further request.

         The case proceeded to trial. Imani was represented by counsel and was found guilty. On direct appeal, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial because Imani had not been allowed to represent himself. State v. Imani, 771 N.W.2d 379 (Wis. App. 2009). The appellate court's opinion focused on the trial court's failure to conduct the full colloquy required by State v. Klessig, 564 N.W.2d 716, 721 (Wis. 1997). The state petitioned for review by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

         The Wisconsin Supreme Court reversed the appellate court and affirmed Imani's conviction. The Supreme Court found that while the trial court did not conduct the full colloquy required by Klessig, the trial court had properly determined that Imani "did not make a deliberate choice to proceed without counsel" and "was unaware of the difficulties and disadvantages of self-representation." State v. Imani, 786 N.W.2d 40, 44–45 (Wis. 2010). The Wisconsin Supreme Court also concluded that "the circuit court's determination that Imani was not competent to proceed pro se is supported by the facts in the record." Id. at 45. The court did not identify any mental illness or specific disability, and none is apparent from the trial court record. See id. at 54. Based on the conclusion that Imani could not have validly waived his right to counsel, the Wisconsin Supreme Court held that the trial court was required to refuse his attempt at representing himself.

         Imani then filed a petition in federal district court for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The district court concluded that the state court finding that Imani was not competent to represent himself "would appear to violate the right to self-representation found in Faretta." Imani v. Pollard, 2014 WL 4828876, *13 (W.D. Wis. Sept. 29, 2014). "If anything, " the court wrote, "the record indicates that petitioner was both articulate and capable of expressing arguments concerning his defense." Id. at *14. The district court denied Imani's petition, however, concluding that the state trial court did not contradict Faretta in finding that Imani's ...

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