Freeman v. Pierce, No. 16-1229 (7th Cir. 2017)Annotate this Case
Freeman, charged in Illinois state court with kidnapping and murder, moved to proceed pro se although the state had announced its intent to seek the death penalty. The judge denied his request, finding that he did not possess the necessary experience and abilities. Freeman proceeded to trial with the public defender and was convicted. While acknowledging that the right to self-representation cannot be denied based on limited education and legal abilities, the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the denial, finding that Freeman's request was not unequivocal. The Seventh Circuit granted Freeman’s habeas petition, 28 U.S.C. 2254(d)(1). The state court holdings were contrary to and unreasonable applications of the Supreme Court’s 1975 holding, Faretta v. California. A judge’s inquiries into a defendant’s technical legal knowledge are not relevant to an assessment of his knowing exercise of the Sixth Amendment right to defend himself. Nothing in the record indicates Freeman took vacillating positions on his desire to represent himself. Neither a request to proceed pro se that is accompanied by a request to appoint standby counsel nor dissatisfaction with counsel makes a self-representation request equivocal. It was improper for the court to require Freeman to justify why he wished to proceed pro se beyond what he had explained in his motion.