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State v. Figueroa

May 31, 2006

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
MIGUEL A. FIGUEROA, A/K/A SANTOS SOLIS, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.



On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 377 N.J. Super. 331 (2005).

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

(This syllabus is not part of the opinion of the Court. It has been prepared by the Office of the Clerk for the convenience of the reader. It has been neither reviewed nor approved by the Supreme Court. Please note that, in the interests of brevity, portions of any opinion may not have been summarized).

In this appeal, the Court considers the scope of a criminal defendant's constitutional right to represent himself at trial.

Miguel Figueroa was charged with capital murder, felony murder, aggravated sexual assault and sexual assault, in connection with the sexual assault and murder of a thirteen-year-old girl in Camden, New Jersey. Figueroa moved to represent himself at trial, but the application was denied by the trial court. He was convicted by a jury of all charges. Because the jury did not unanimously determine that Figueroa had committed the homicidal act by his own conduct, he was spared the death sentence.

On appeal, Figueroa alleged he had been denied his right to self-representation as set forth in Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806, The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Rivera-soto

Argued March 20, 2006

Defendant Miguel Figueroa was charged with knowing or purposeful murder, a capital offense, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(1) or (2), felony murder, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(3), aggravated sexual assault, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2a(3), and sexual assault, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2c(4), in connection with the August 1995 sexual assault and murder of a thirteen-year-old girl in Camden, New Jersey. Defendant moved to represent himself at trial, an application that was denied by the trial court. Defendant was convicted by a jury of all charges. However, because the jury did not unanimously determine that defendant had "committed the homicidal act by his own conduct[,]" as required by N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3c, defendant was spared the imposition of the death penalty and was sentenced to an aggregate term of life imprisonment plus twenty years, with forty-five years of parole ineligibility.

On appeal, defendant alleged he had been denied his right to self-representation as set forth in Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806, 95 S.Ct. 2525, 45 L.Ed. 2d 562 (1975), and State v. Crisafi, 128 N.J. 499 (1992). The Appellate Division agreed, reversed defendant's conviction, and remanded the cause for a new trial. State v. Figueroa, 377 N.J. 331 (App. Div. 2005).

We granted the State's petition for certification, 185 N.J. 296 (2005). We affirm the judgment of the Appellate Division and remand the cause to the Law Division substantially for the reasons expressed in the opinion of Judge Coburn below. However, to assist the trial court on remand, we add the following.

When confronted with a defendant's unequivocal request for self-representation,*fn1 the trial court must carefully question the defendant to determine the scope of his request. As the Appellate Division correctly noted, a trial judge must engage in a searching inquiry, which [State v.] Crisafi[, 128 N.J. 499, 510-12 (1992)] said should include explanation of the nature of the charges, possible defenses, and the range of punishment; the technical problems arising from self-representation, and the risks taken if the defense is unsuccessful; the requirement that the defense be presented in compliance with the rules of criminal procedure and evidence; and the inadvisability of proceeding without assistance of counsel. [Id. at 336.]

As the panel also recognized, "[i]n [State v.] Reddish[, 181 N.J. 553, 593-95 (2004)], the Court expanded on the nature of the required inquiry[.]" Ibid.

Once the trial court engages in and completes that searching inquiry, it then must determine on the record whether the defendant is seeking to exercise the right to self- representation in whole or in part. If the former, then the proscriptions of Crisafi and Reddish apply and, if met, the defendant must be allowed to exercise his constitutional right to self-representation.

A different result may obtain, however, if the defendant's request is for partial, or hybrid, representation, that is, if the defendant wishes to represent himself only in respect of a part of the trial and not the trial as a whole. As the Appellate Division properly noted, "hybrid representation may be foreclosed and is to be avoided wherever possible[,]" State v. Roth, 289 N.J. Super. 152, 165-66, 673 A.2d 285, 292 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 146 N.J. 68, 679 A.2d 655 (1996) (citations omitted), but may be granted in the trial judge's discretion. State v. McCleary, 149 N.J. Super. 77, 80, 373 A.2d 400, 401 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 75 N.J. 26, 379 A.2d 257 (1977). [Id. at 337.]

We make patent what was implicit in the panel's decision: there is no constitutional right to partial or hybrid representation. Ibid. See also State v. Cook, 330 N.J. Super. 395, 414-15 n.2 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 165 N.J. 486 (2000) (describing hybrid representation allowed by trial court and deferring consideration of "the advisability of this or any other aspect of the hybrid representation afforded to defendant"); State v. Roth, 289 N.J. Super. 152, 165-66 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 146 N.J. 68 (1996) ("Although a defendant has the constitutional right to proceed with or without counsel under Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806, 819, 95 S.Ct. 2525, 2534, 45 L.Ed.2d 562, 572 (1975), the right to hybrid representation may be foreclosed and is to be avoided wherever possible."); State v. Buhl, 269 N.J. Super. 344, 364 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 135 N.J. 468 (1994) ("Faretta does not require a trial judge to permit a 'hybrid' representation of the type defendant was actually allowed."); State v. Long, 216 N.J. Super. 269, 275 (App. Div. 1987) ("Hybrid representation, i.e., pro se representation and that by counsel, is left to the court's discretion. The subject is one relating to the function of the trial judge to conduct an orderly trial -- a matter traditionally left to his discretionary judgment. It is apparent that such joint action is to be avoided wherever possible.") (citations, internal quotation marks and editing marks omitted); State v. McCleary, 149 N.J. Super. 77, 80 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 75 N.J. 26 (1977) ("[T]he determination of an application for hybrid representation is left to the sound discretion of the trial judge which will not be disturbed on appeal. . . . . [T]he right to a hybrid representation is ...


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