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State v. Figueroa

May 6, 2005

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
MIGUEL FIGUEROA, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County, Indictment No. 3179-10-00.

Before Judges Stern, Coburn and S.L. Reisner.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Coburn, J.A.D.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

APPROVED FOR PUBLICATION

Argued April 12, 2005

After losing his motion to represent himself in this capital case, Miguel Figueroa was placed on trial before a jury, which found him guilty of purposeful or knowing murder, felony murder, aggravated sexual assault, and sexual assault. There was no penalty phase because the jury did not unanimously find that he committed the murder by his own conduct, and he received an aggregate prison sentence of life plus twenty years with forty-five years of parole ineligibility. The dispositive issue is whether the trial judge improperly denied Figueroa's motion to represent himself at trial.

I.

Over six months before trial, a hearing occurred on Figueroa's request to represent himself. Appearing with him were the two attorneys assigned by the Public Defender. The judge's initial questioning revealed that Figueroa, who was over thirty years old, had a ninth grade education and that he was particularly focused on conducting his own cross-examination of witnesses, although he had never done so, and was unfamiliar with the trial process.

As the questioning continued, Figueroa admitted that he had never read a DNA report before or cross-examined a DNA expert, although the DNA evidence was critical in this case. He recognized that "[his] life [was] on the line," but firmly believed that he knew his "case and [his] discovery better than anybody in here." When asked whether he had tried to "enlighten" his attorneys about his case, this colloquy occurred:

THE DEFENDANT: Enlighten them. I just told you. I want, I want to do the cross-examining myself. I don't know, what would be the problem with me doing the cross-examining? If they want to be there, represent me right next to me, they can but I want to do the cross-examine. What's so hard about me given the opportunity to cross-examine?

THE COURT: Because I want to be able to have you represented effectively. I don't believe that you fully understand what rights you give up when you say I want to waive the right to counsel. Do you understand that?

THE DEFENDANT: I understand that . . . . What I'm trying to say is I have no problem with their representation, you understand? But I would like to be able to cross-examine, to speak out, you know, do the cross-examining on the witnesses. Why can I not do that? They can be in there in case there's something I have no knowledge of, you know, to represent me but I would like to do the cross-examination. I want to do it.

THE COURT: And you don't feel it could be effectively done by you ...


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