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Smith v. State

Court of Appeals of Texas, Sixth District, Texarkana

January 2, 2020

TRISTIN MIGUEL SMITH, Appellant
v.
THE STATE OF TEXAS, Appellee

          On Appeal from the 71st District Court Harrison County, Texas Trial Court No. 18-0007X

          Before Morriss, C.J., Burgess and Stevens, JJ.

          ORDER

         Tristin Miguel Smith has appealed from his conviction of burglary of a habitation and the resulting nineteen-year sentence. The trial court deemed Smith indigent and appointed counsel to represent him at trial. There is nothing in the record indicating that counsel was appointed to represent Smith on appeal. However, attorney Ebb Mobley sent this Court a letter dated December 4, 2019, stating that he does not represent Smith and stating that Smith desires to represent himself on appeal. Smith has filed several pro se motions in this Court.

         In Texas, every person convicted of a crime has a statutory right to appeal. See Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 44.02; Nguyen v. State, 11 S.W.3d 376, 378 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2000, no pet.). The Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution mandate that every criminal appellant, whether rich or poor, is guaranteed the right to counsel on a first appeal. U.S. Const. amends. VI, XIV; see Douglas v. People of State of California, 372 U.S. 353 (1963). When a defendant is indigent, an attorney must be appointed by the State to represent him on appeal. See McCoy v. Court of Appeals of Wisconsin Dist. 1, 486 U.S. 429, 435 (1988).

         It appears that Smith desires to forego his right to counsel and to represent himself in this appeal. In the words of the United State Supreme Court,

The Sixth Amendment does not include any right to appeal. As we have recognized, "[t]he right of appeal, as we presently know it in criminal cases, is purely a creature of statute." Abney[v. United States], 431 U.S. [651, ] 656, 97 S.Ct. 2034');">97 S.Ct. 2034 [1977]. It necessarily follows that the Amendment itself does not provide any basis for finding a right to self-representation on appeal.

Martinez v. Court of Appeal of California, Fourth Appellate Dist., 528 U.S. 152, 160 (2000); see Hadnot v. State, 14 S.W.3d 348, 350 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2000, order) (per curiam) ("No Texas court has recognized a state constitutional right to self-representation on direct appeal."); Stafford v. State, 63 S.W.3d 502, 506 (Tex. App.-Texarkana 2001, pet. ref'd) (per curiam) (permitting appellant to proceed pro se in direct appeal, noting that appellant had no "constitutional right to self-representation," and stating that no "broader right exists under the Texas Constitution that would compel this result").

         We review a request for self-representation in a direct criminal appeal on a case-by-case basis by considering "the best interest of the appellant, the State, and the administration of justice." Ex parte Ainsworth, Nos. 07-15-00091-CR, 07-15-00106-CR, 06-07-00107-CR, 2015 WL 4389019, at *1 (Tex. App.-Amarillo July 15, 2015, order) (per curiam) (not designated for publication); see Bibbs v. State, No. 07-10-00300-CR, 2011 WL 5026903, at *1 (Tex. App.- Amarillo Oct. 21, 2011, order) (per curiam) (not designated for publication);[1] Cormier v. State, 85 S.W.3d 496, 498 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2002, order) (per curiam).

         We must abate this matter to the trial court for a determination of whether, among other things, Smith's decision to self-represent on appeal is a competent, voluntary, and intelligent decision. See Hubbard v. State, 739 S.W.2d 341, 345 (Tex. Crim. App. 1987). We, therefore, abate this appeal to the trial court so that it may conduct any hearings (whether in person, by video link, or by teleconference) necessary to address the following issues:

1. Whether Smith wishes to represent himself on appeal.
2. If Smith desires to represent himself on appeal:
a. the trial court must admonish Smith of the pitfalls of engaging in the appellate process without the assistance of counsel;[2] and
b. the trial court should determine and enter findings on whether, after being admonished, Smith still desires to ...

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