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Thomas v. Carroll

September 22, 2009


On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Delaware (D.C. No. 04-cv-00159) District Judge: Honorable Joseph J. Farnan.

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


Argued March 5, 2009

Before: SLOVITER, HARDIMAN, Circuit Judges, and POLLAK*fn1, District Judge.


This appeal presents a factual scenario unique in our experience and a legal question for which we have found no precise precedent.

While Appellant Andre R. Thomas was serving a thirty-five year sentence in a Delaware penal institution, he punched a corrections officer and was subsequently indicted under Delaware law for assault. Prior to trial, Thomas voluntarily and knowingly waived his right to counsel and was permitted to proceed pro se. However, after the Delaware trial judge (Superior Court) declined to order the production of all the witnesses and documents that Thomas requested, Thomas refused to participate in the trial. The case proceeded to jury selection and then trial without anyone representing the defense. On several occasions, the trial judge provided Thomas with the opportunity to return to, and participate in, the proceedings, but he declined to do so. Ultimately, he was convicted by a jury, sentenced to eight years additional imprisonment, and on direct appeal, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed.

According to Thomas, his Sixth Amendment rights were violated because the Superior Court conducted the trial without anyone present for the defense. If we were writing on a blank slate, we might agree with Thomas that a trial under those circumstances is inconsistent with the fair trial requirement of the Sixth Amendment. However, this case comes to us on Thomas' petition for a writ of habeas corpus and our inquiry is limited under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Here, the Delaware courts' conclusion that Thomas' Sixth Amendment rights were not violated was not contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law as determined by the United States Supreme Court. Therefore, we will affirm the District Court's denial of his petition.

I. Background

A. The Crime and State Court Proceedings

In 2000, Thomas was convicted of reckless endangerment and related offenses in Delaware state court and sentenced to thirty-five years imprisonment. Pursuant to that conviction and sentence, Thomas was held at the Delaware Correctional Center ("DCC") in New Castle County, Delaware. On July 25, 2002, as Thomas and approximately forty other inmates were exiting the DCC's dining hall, Thomas struck a correctional officer, Michael Moran, on the back of his head. When Moran turned around to determine who had struck him, Thomas hit Moran in the side of the head two or three more times with a closed fist.

Thomas was subsequently indicted by a grand jury in Delaware state court with attempted assault in a detention facility with intent to cause serious physical injury in violation of Del. Code Ann. tit. 11, § 1254(b).*fn2 An assistant public defender was appointed to represent Thomas, but after Thomas twice refused his assistance and stated that he wished to represent himself, the public defender entered a motion to withdraw as counsel. The Delaware Superior Court granted that motion to withdraw and appointed new counsel. At that time, the Superior Court also denied Thomas' motion that his new counsel serve only as standby counsel.

On December 9, 2002, the Superior Court held a final pretrial hearing. During that proceeding, Thomas expressed his desire to represent himself. The Superior Court informed Thomas of the risks of self-representation, including that Thomas faced a minimum sentence of eight years imprisonment as a habitual offender if convicted and a maximum of life imprisonment. The Superior Court also reminded Thomas that he proceeded pro se in his previous criminal trial and was convicted and sentenced to thirty-five years imprisonment.

Thomas subsequently made a formal motion to proceed pro se. Although the State opposed Thomas' motion, the Superior Court granted it on December 23, 2002. We note that Thomas does not allege that his waiver of his right to counsel was deficient in any way.

On January 20, 2003, Thomas sent a letter to the Court requesting standby counsel and information regarding the means for subpoenaing witnesses and documents. This letter was docketed as a request for appointment of standby counsel.

On April 8, 2003, the case proceeded to trial. Prior to jury selection, the Superior Court noted that Thomas had requested standby counsel and asked whether he recalled that motion. Thomas stated that he did not recall the motion, and upon further questioning by the Court, he stated that he was prepared to proceed pro se.

Thomas then moved for the production of thirteen inmates and nine correctional personnel as witnesses as well as certain medical and personnel records.*fn3 Thomas had taken no action to secure the attendance of these witnesses or production of these materials prior to the trial date. During a lengthy colloquy, the Court explained that it was not obligated to assist him in obtaining the attendance of witnesses or production of documents. The Court also questioned Thomas regarding the proposed testimony of the thirteen inmates, and Thomas stated that all of the requested inmates were present during the alleged assault and, presumably, would testify that he acted in self-defense. The Court then stated that it would arrange to have two or three inmates brought to the trial to testify on Thomas' behalf, but that it would not order production of all thirteen inmates because their testimony would be cumulative. The Court asked Thomas to select three inmate witnesses who would be produced the next day but Thomas replied that this proposal was unacceptable to him and that "you can have these guys take me back down there [to the DCC] and please tell them don't bring me back up here [to the courthouse]. And what you can do is go ahead and have your trial, I'm not participating in that." App. at 11.

After further discussion, the Court asked Thomas if he still wanted to represent himself. Thomas replied: "Certainly." App. at 12. Shortly thereafter, Thomas asked whether the Court could "tell them don't [sic] bring me back up here." App. at 12. The Court stated that it could do so, and Thomas replied: "Okay. That's what I ...

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