Constitutional Law

Did robbery defendant forfeit right to an attorney? Top state court to decide

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Joshua Nisbet didn’t want to represent himself in a Maine robbery trial.

But a state court judge said he had to do so because he couldn’t get along with the five attorneys previously appointed at various times to represent him in the Cumberland County case and he last two said he threatened them.

Convicted and sentenced to seven years, Nisbet is now represented by an attorney in an appeal of his conviction, the Portland Press Herald reports.

“The central question on appeal is whether the trial court was wrong to force the defendant to go to trial without a lawyer. It was,” said his lawyer, Jamesa Drake, in a court filing. “A reviewing court must indulge every reasonable presumption against the waiver of right to counsel and, on this record, defendant did not waive his right to counsel.”

The government said Nisbet had been warned by the court of the consequences he faced for his “outrageous behavior” to his lawyers.

“The right to counsel is not unlimited, and in a serious situation such as this one, a trial court must be able to say enough is enough,” assistant district attorney Bud Ellis wrote.

Also at issue in the appeal is the court’s appointment of two standby lawyers to help Nisbet, the newspaper reports. They sat with him in court during his trial and offered whispered suggestions. However, they could not make arguments or examine witnesses on his behalf.

Such standby appointments, contrary to the wishes of the defendant, are not the right answer, said the Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in an apparent amicus brief.

The Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic at the University of Maine School of Law wrote in a brief: “Until clear, uniform guidelines are provided by this court regarding the duties and ethical obligations of standby counsel, trial courts should not appoint standby counsel.”

A recording of the oral arguments scheduled for Wednesday should soon be available on the state supreme court’s website, and remain there for two weeks.

Related coverage:

Associated Press: “Man Who Couldn’t Mesh With 5 Lawyers Faces Skeptical Judges”

See also: “Defendant Loses Right to a Lawyer After Allegedly Stabbing 3 of Them with Pencils or Pens in Court” “Utah inmate forfeited right to counsel after threatening several lawyers, state’s top court says” “Top Minn. Court Says Public Defender Erred By ‘Advocating’ Forfeiture of Client’s Right to Counsel”

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