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United States v. Jones

June 28, 2006

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
CHRISTOPHER D. JONES APPELLANT



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Criminal Action No. 03-cr-00201) District Judge: Honorable Malcolm Muir.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ambro, Circuit Judge

PRECEDENTIAL

Argued April 21, 2006

Before: SLOVITER and AMBRO, Circuit Judges, and DuBOIS,*fn1 District Judge

OPINION OF THE COURT

Christopher D. Jones appeals his drug conviction and sentence entered in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. He contends, inter alia, that his decision to proceed pro se was not knowing, intelligent, and voluntary. We agree, vacate his conviction, and remand to the District Court for a new trial.

I. Facts and Procedural History

A. Background

In July 2003, Pennsylvania State Trooper John Latin observed Jones driving at over 80 miles per hour on an interstate highway. Trooper Latin attempted to get Jones to stop, but he refused to comply and led Latin and other officers on a 14-mile chase. During the chase, officers observed Jones throw a powdery substance and a brown paper bag out the window of his car. The officers eventually forced Jones off the road, and when he got out of his car they observed white powder fall from his lap. They also observed white powder in the interior of the car, discovered it at the various places along the highway where Jones threw items out the window, and after obtaining a search warrant, recovered hundreds of small plastic baggies and an electronic scale from the car. A forensic examiner later determined that the white powder was cocaine, with a total weight of slightly more than 100 grams.

B. Waiver of Right to Counsel

Jones was indicted on a single count of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). He pled not guilty and the District Court appointed counsel. In December 2003, Jones wrote a letter to the District Court Judge requesting new counsel. He contended that his appointed counsel had not communicated with him about the case, misrepresented the charges and possible sentence, and refused to file motions Jones wanted him to file. In January 2004, the District Court held an ex parte hearing at which Jones stated that he did not wish his appointed counsel to be removed. Two months later, however, Jones renewed his objections, and his appointed counsel filed a request to be relieved of his duties. The District Court granted this request and appointed the Federal Defender's Office to represent Jones, which in turn designated attorney Edward Rymsza.

Rymsza subsequently filed a motion to withdraw as counsel, and at an ex parte hearing in August 2004, he informed the Court that Jones wished to proceed pro se. Rymsza stated that the attorney-client relationship had been "rocky" and that Jones had repeatedly questioned Rymsza's dedication to the case. Rymsza also noted that Jones wanted to pursue trial strategies he could not condone, and that Jones had been "very adamant in his desire to proceed pro se or not have me on the case." The following colloquy then occurred between the Court and Jones:

THE COURT: [D]o you wish Mr. Rymsza to continue to represent you in this case?

DEFENDANT JONES: No, I don't.

THE COURT: Do you wish to proceed as your own attorney?

DEFENDANT JONES: Either that or be appointed another counsel.

THE COURT: I'm asking you whether you wish to proceed with your own attorney. You have already had two attorneys in this case, and we just simply can't keep appointing counsel after counsel after counsel in a given case.

Do you wish to proceed on your own as your own attorney?

DEFENDANT JONES: If the Court would not allow me to obtain new counsel, then yes, I would like to proceed pro se.

THE COURT: Well, I'm going to ask you questions about whether or not you should represent yourself and what your knowledge of the law is and that kind of thing, but I'll make the decision after I hear your views later today or possibly tomorrow as to whether we will appoint new counsel for you. . . .

THE COURT: All right, now have you ever ...


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