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United States v. Gravatt

argued: January 10, 1989.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
WILLIAM R. GRAVATT, APPELLANT



Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence entered on July 1, 1988, in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania at Criminal No. 87-4.

Stapleton and Mansmann, Circuit Judges, and Huyett, District Judge.*fn*

Author: Huyett

Opinion OF THE COURT HUYETT, District Judge

Defendant-appellant William R. Gravatt appeals from a judgment of conviction for four counts of tax evasion, entered following a jury trial before the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, at which the appellant was not represented by counsel. The important issue raised by this appeal is whether the district court conducted an appropriate inquiry into the appellant's financial ability to retain private counsel before denying his request for a court appointed attorney.*fn1 We hold that it did not. Accordingly, we reverse the conviction and remand for further proceedings.

I.

Gravatt was indicted on January 14, 1987 under a four count indictment charging him with evading income taxes for the calendar years 1980 through 1983, in violation of 26 U.S.C. ยง 7201. On August 17, 1987, appellant made his initial appearance, without counsel, before a United States Magistrate. A transcript of the initial appearance was not prepared, but the district court's docket sheet records that a waiver of the appellant's right to counsel was signed on his behalf by the magistrate. At his August 24, 1987 arraignment, Gravatt again appeared without counsel. He refused to enter a plea, so a plea of not guilty was entered for him by the magistrate.

Among the subsequent flurry of pro se filings by the appellant was a "Petition for Leave to Proceed In Forma Pauperis," filed on September 9, 1987, and denied by the court the next day. Gravatt asserted that he required "legal or court assistance" to defend himself against the indictment. In support of this request, Gravatt supplied certain information about his financial status. He stated that he was unemployed, that he received approximately $600 in monthly Social Security benefits, and that he did not own automobiles, real property, stocks or interest in any corporation, insurance annuities, or savings or checking accounts.

On September 16, 1987, Gravatt renewed his request for legal representation in a "Petition for Court Appointed Counsel," which was referred to a U.S. Magistrate. The magistrate's clerk mailed Gravatt a letter requesting that he complete and return an enclosed copy of the standard form financial affidavit (CJA 23), "in order to ascertain whether or not you qualify for appointment of counsel." Gravatt replied by letter, stating that he would not complete the CJA 23 because the affidavit incorrectly described the offense charged*fn2, and because disclosure of the requested income information would violate his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. He offered to provide this information if he were granted immunity for making statements regarding income." Gravatt did, however, again volunteer the information he had previously provided concerning his financial situation, adding that he had "15 Federal Reserve Notes" on his person. On October 6, 1987, the court denied defendant's petition, for the stated reason that Gravatt had "refused to complete the Financial Affidavit (CJA 23)."*fn3

On January 22, 1988, during a pretrial hearing, Gravatt again argued that the government had incorrectly identified the offense for which he was charged. The court stood by its previous ruling on this matter, and the following colloquy ensued:

DEFENDANT: My rights, what about my rights? You ain't protecting my rights at all. I asked for a court appointed attorney because I couldn't find one. I don't have no attorney; here I'm standing in a criminal case.

THE COURT: Mr. Gravatt, you refused to file the necessary affidavit.

DEFENDANT: Because it was a mistake on it.

THE COURT: You refused to file the necessary affidavit requesting --

DEFENDANT: I can't perjure myself because somebody in the ...


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