PITTSBURGH – Some of the defendants charged in the storming of the U.S. Capitol are dismissing defense attorneys and choosing to represent themselves, regardless of their lack of legal training or repeated warnings from judges.
This election has already resulted in some curious legal maneuvers and embarrassing arguments in court.
A New Yorker indicted in the January 6 riot plans to bill the government for work on his own case. A Pennsylvania restaurant owner tries to defend herself in front of the prison. A judge told another New Yorker that he may have incriminated himself during the trial.
The right to self-representation is a fundamental principle of the constitution. But a longtime judge quoted an old saying when he advised a former California police chief that if he represented himself, he would have “a fool for a customer”.
And Michael Magner, a New Orleans criminal defense attorney and former federal attorney, noted, “Just because you have a constitutional right to do something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wise.”
The decision of at least five defendants to defend themselves will present many challenges, especially for the bereaved. You risk further legal trouble if you say the wrong thing in court. You need to sift through the mountain of evidence investigators gathered in the attack. And the strategy is already testing the judges’ ability to maintain control of their courtrooms.
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“I would never represent myself if charged with a crime,” US District Judge Royce Lamberth told Alan Hostetter before allowing him to defend himself against riot charges. The judge warned the ex-chief of police that since he was appointed to the bank in 1987, he had never seen anyone successfully represent himself.
Hostetter was arrested along with five other men in June on charges of conspiring to prevent Congress from confirming Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election. The indictment links four of Hostetter’s co-defendants with the Three Percenters, a wing of the militia movement.
Hostetter, who began teaching yoga after more than 20 years as a civil servant, told Lamberth that the “corruption of this investigation” was one reason he wanted to represent himself. His finances also played a role.
“I believe that one of the government’s strategies and tactics is that if they can’t judge you, at least they want to bankrupt and destroy you,” said Hostetter.
Another self-defending defendant, Brandon Fellows of New York State, recently unsuccessfully petitioned US District Judge Trevor McFadden to release him from prison.
The video shows Fellows, who was photographed with a fake orange beard during the riot, with his feet on a table in Senator Jeff Merkley’s, D-Ore’s office. Fellows was jailed this summer for missing a mental health assessment appointment and harassing a probation officer.
Fellows took the stand to argue for his release and brushed aside the judge’s warnings that if he testified, he could face charges of perjury.
With that, Fellows may have exacerbated his legal problems.
Fellows told McFadden that he used what he called a “loophole” that he read online to disqualify another judge overseeing an independent case in New York. Fellows said he had listed a phone number for that judge’s wife as his own number on court records to create the appearance that he knew the woman.
Fellows said he also asked the public defender who stood in for him if he should try to replace McFadden by contacting the judge’s family, but the attorney warned him he would be arrested.
McFadden declined Fellows’ offer to be released, telling Fellows that he had admitted that he likely obstructed justice in the New York case and was considering doing so in his riot case.
McFadden, who was nominated by President Donald Trump, also jailed self-advocating defendant Pauline Bauer last month for failing to comply with court orders to work with probation officers during her pre-trial release.
Bauer was arrested in May with a friend who joined her at the Capitol. The video from a police officer’s body camera captured Bauer who said he should hang up House spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi, D-California, the FBI says.
Bauer, who owns a restaurant in rural Kane, Pennsylvania, repeatedly interrupted the judge during the hearings. She has also argued in vain that the court does not have jurisdiction over her and expresses an ideology that seems to unite with the extremist movement of “sovereign citizens”.
During a July 19 hearing, Farmer McFadden said she “doesn’t want an attorney from the bank.” When the judge denied her motion to dismiss her charges, she asked, “On what terms?”
“You can’t put any conditions on me,” replied McFadden. McFadden appointed attorneys to assist Fellows and Bauer as substitute attorneys and assisted at the request of the defendants.
After US District Judge Randolph Moss ruled last month that Eric Bochene could represent himself, the New York state man put forward a “fee schedule” in which he apparently tried to create a structure in which he would charge fees for working on his own case.
The records indicate that he will seek up to $ 250,000 for two hours in court if he feels he is “under duress” and $ 50,000 if he is there voluntarily. For a “forced release of body fluids”, Bochene bills $ 5 million as part of the Bochene billing plan.
The judge rejected the application and found that Bochene had not been sentenced to payable measures. “In addition, this argument is unfounded, insofar as the defendant demands payment for appearing in court,” said the brief order of the judge.
A fifth riot defendant, Brian Christopher Mock, started representing himself last month after having an assistant federal defender as his attorney, court records show. A tipster told the FBI that Mock bragged about attacking police officers and destroying property in the Capitol after returning home to Minnesota.
More than 640 people were charged in the riot. Several cases have already been settled, with sentences ranging from suspended sentences to prison terms of less than a year. Certain defendants charged with the most serious of crimes – including conspiracy cases against members of extremist groups – face years of imprisonment if convicted.
It can be challenging for judges to maintain composure and control over their courtrooms when a defendant is not represented by a lawyer.
“The court will often bend over backwards to make sure people aren’t making their situation worse by wanting to be their own Perry Mason,” said Magner.
New York City Civil Rights attorney Ron Kuby, who has served as substitute attorney for about a dozen self-represented defendants, has served as a lawyer for nearly 40 years and has never seen a defendant obtain acquittal. However, a positive judgment is not always their primary goal.
He said lay people should not represent themselves for the same reason that lawyers do.
“You have no objectivity,” said Kuby. “You have to be able to look at the case objectively, which is difficult when you feel criminalized for preventing an illegitimate president from taking power, as crazy as that sounds.”
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