Right to Have a Fool for a Client

United States v. Lee | 13-1976

August 2014

In United States v. Lee, No. 13-1976, the Court re-affirmed that a “competent” defendant has the right to represent himself at all phases of a criminal case, including a suppression hearing. In Lee, the defendant timely sought to proceed pro se at his suppression hearing. The magistrate judge denied his request and directed that the hearing proceed with appointed counsel at the helm. The motion to suppress was denied, and client proceeded to trial, where he was allowed to represent himself – and lost. The Seventh Circuit found error, holding that the defendant should have been permitted to represent himself at the suppression hearing. Interestingly, the relief granted was not a new trial. Rather, the Court directed that a new hearing be held, and if the result is the same (i.e. no suppression) then the trial results would stand because the denial of his right to proceed pro se at the suppression hearing would have not prejudiced the defendant.