Rashaad A. Imani, Petitioner-Appellant,
William Pollard, Respondent-Appellee.
January 13, 2016
from the United States District Court for the Western
District of Wisconsin No. 11-cv-677-wmc - William M. Conley,
Wood, Chief Judge, and Bauer and Hamilton, Circuit Judges.
Hamilton, Circuit Judge.
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.
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.
Factual and Procedural Background
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.
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."
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
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.
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
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
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 ...