In U.S. v. Garey, No. 05-14631 (Apr. 11, 2007), the Court (2-1) set aside the defendant’s guilty plea because the district court violated his right to counsel.
At the plea colloquy, the defendant asked to be relieved of appointed lawyer, whom he felt had a conflict because he was one of the victims of the defendant’s alleged crime – which involved threats of using a weapon of mass destruction. The trial court told the defendant he could only proceed without this lawyer if he represented himself. The defendant said he would go forward with self-representation involuntarily, because he wished to be represented by counsel – but not by his current court-appointed lawyer.
Noting the difficulty of reconciling the right to counsel and the right to self-representation, the Court noted that the right to counsel is the "preeminent" of the two. Consequently, a defendant must clearly invoke the right to self-representation. Here, Garey did not do so, because he stated that he would only proceed without representation "involuntarily." Accordingly, the Court vacated Garey’s guilty plea and remanded the case.