In U.S. v. Ly, No. 09-12515 (July 20, 2011), the Court held that a district court is required to correct a pro se defendant’s obvious misunderstanding of his right to testify. The Court therefore reversed the convictions.
Ly, who represented himself pro se, misunderstood the nature of his right to testify: he did not know that he could testify on direct in narrative form, without being asked questions. The district said nothing to clear up his misunderstanding.
The Court held that where, as here, the district court (1) knew that the defendant had not “knowingly and intelligently” waived the right to testify, and (2) initiated a colloquy with the defendant on whether he would testify and reinforced the defendant’s mistaken view, the district court was required to correct the pro se defendant’s mistaken view.
The Court found that the error was not harmless. Ly “presented nothing” in his defense. “This absence deprived the jury of an alternative narrative.”