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Saturday, March 1, 2014

Can Texas state criminal defendants appear without lawyers in appellate courts?

I have come to believe that Texas state criminal defendants have a state constitutional right to appeal pro se. Martinez v. Court of Appeal of Calif. 528 U.S. 152 (2000) says that there is no federal constitutional right to appeal pro se, but that a state constitution may create such a right. Article 1, section 10 of the Texas Constitution provides that a defendant may be heard by counsel or without. Its language does not distinguish between trial and appeal on this point.  In Ex parte Thomas, 906 S.W.2d 22, 24 (1995), among other cases,  the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recognized a right to self-representation on appeal. Sickles v. State, 170 S.W.3d 298, 299 (Tex. App-- Waco 2006 pet. ref'd) finds a statutory right to self-representation on appeal in Vernon's Ann.Texas C.C.P. art. 1.051(f, g). The only Court of Appeal that joins Waco is El Paso-- Marion v. State, 936 S.W.2d 5, 6 (1996 no pet.). Four courts of appeal have held that no pro se right to appeal exists, and this is the majority view (See Chief Justice Gray's dissent in Sickles.): First Court of Appeals- Cormier v. State, 85 S.W.3d 496 (Houston 2002 no pet.), Sixth- Stafford v. State63 S.W.3d 502, 506 (Texarkana 2001 pet ref'd) (per curiam), Thirteenth- Crawford v. State, 136 S.W.3d 417 (Corpus Christi-Edinburg 2002) (on interlocutory motions), and the Fourteenth- Thomas v. State, 286 S.W.3d 109 (Houston 2009 pet. ref'd). Beaumont appears to have never ruled on such an issue. My conclusion is that the state constitution appears to support such a right; CCA has said there is one; El Paso recognizes one, and Waco has found a well reasoned statutory basis for one. The argument can be made that there is no such right because one could argue Thomas has been effectively overruled by Martinez and that the Courts of Appeal are lined up 4-2 against it, and that the Court of Criminal Appeals has consistently held that the state constitution does not provide any criminal defense rights in addition to federal rights.

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