Court of Appeals of Texas, Ninth District, Beaumont
Submitted on January 29, 2019
Appeal from the Criminal District Court Jefferson County,
Texas Trial Cause Nos. 17-26949, 17-26950
McKeithen, C.J., Kreger and Horton, JJ.
Sixth Amendment allows a criminal defendant to represent
himself at trial. The right to choose (or to reject) counsel
is a personal right. And the defendant's choice must be
said, an individual's right to elect to represent himself
is not absolute. When appropriate, a trial court may refuse a
defendant's election to represent himself. But when the
defendant elects to proceed without the benefit of counsel,
the trial court may not require the defendant to be
represented at trial by counsel merely because the court
believes the defendant does not have the legal training
needed to conduct his defense.
the record shows the trial court did just that. As a result,
we must reverse the defendant's convictions and award the
defendant new trials in trial court cause numbers 17-26949
we resolve the appeal on the self-representation issue, we
limit the background to the facts relevant to that issue. In
March 2017, a grand jury indicted Artavias Chovan
for committing two aggravated robberies. The cases were
assigned cause numbers 17-26949 and 17-26950, and they were
consolidated for trial. In the pretrial proceedings, the
trial court appointed the first of what would later be three
attorneys to represent Cole in the cases. At an April 2017
pretrial hearing, Cole told the trial court he did not want
the first attorney to represent him in his case. The trial
court agreed and replaced Cole's first attorney with
August 2017, the trial court conducted another pretrial
hearing. In that hearing, Cole's second attorney told the
court that Cole wanted to represent himself. According to the
attorney, Cole could "do a better job himself on
presenting his . . . rather novel defense." Then, the
trial court determined Cole was not familiar with the Rules
of Evidence, told Cole he needed a lawyer, and explained to
Cole he was facing charges that, if they resulted in
conviction, the convictions could lead to two life sentences.
The court informed Cole that "only the foolish"
represent themselves, and in the court's experience, they
lose "every time."
Cole's second attorney summed up his views regarding why
Cole desired to represent himself. He explained: "Mr.
Cole's position is the only way that he can be assured
that the proper defense is conveyed  is that if he does it
himself and that, really, there isn't any lawyer that
would be able to competently represent him because he needs
to make these arguments himself and he can do that with a
that, the trial court explained why it felt it was not in
Cole's interest to represent himself. The court said:
"[I]f you want this thing heard in the appropriate
fashion, you need a lawyer to guide you; and you can get your
voice heard. But if you don't know how to do it, you can
sit there and I'll say, [s]orry. You are not doing it in
the correct way. You can't be heard."
persisted, however, and he told the court that his second
attorney had "done nothing." At that point, the
court asked Cole if he wanted another attorney. Cole
responded: "Yeah. I would take another one." The
trial court granted the request, appointing Cole's third
attorney in his cases.
morning of Cole's trial in March 2019, the trial court
heard Cole's pretrial motions. In the hearing, Cole asked
to speak to the court. But the court told Cole if he had
something to say, he needed to "go through the
attorney." At that point, Cole's third attorney
explained he and Cole could not agree on some matters and
that Cole wanted another lawyer. The trial court responded,
stating that Cole's third attorney was competent. Then,
the trial court and Cole engaged in the following discussion:
[COLE]: I don't want him as my lawyer.
THE COURT: We are going to be trying this case on Monday.
[COLE]: I don't want him as my lawyer.
THE COURT: I'm resetting until Monday, okay? Anything
[COLE]: So, you're going to make me have him as my lawyer
if I'm saying I want to fire my lawyer? Then I want to
fire my lawyer.
THE COURT: Then you can represent yourself.
. . .
THE COURT: Only one person can talk at one time for the court
reporter who by law must take down everything in this
courtroom. [The third attorney] is your attorney or you can
[COLE]: I guess I'm going to have to do that then.
THE COURT: Well, really? Well, you know what is said? Only a
fool does that.
[COLE]: Well, I'm going to have to be that fool, sir.
THE COURT: In 40 years, everyone who has tried that, everyone
in my 40 years of extensive trial work, has failed miserably.
[COLE]: Okay. Now, I understand that but at the same time --
THE COURT: [Cole] if you want to represent yourself,
that's fine. [The third attorney] will be appointed
though to sit next to you; and if you need to refer to
anything, fine. You will follow the Code of Criminal
Procedure. You will follow the Rules of Evidence. You will