There are a number of versions of the adage: “He who represents himself has a fool for a client,”, but the meaning remains the same.
Waukesha County Circuit Judge Jennifer Dorow found that Darrell Brooks, the man facing six counts of murder and 61 counts of reckless endangerment for the November 21, 2021, Waukesha parade rampage, can represent himself. Although Brooks has been so disruptive he had to be moved to a separate room, he has a right to be a “fool.” The judge ruled pre-trial – before the jury was picked – that Brooks was competent to represent himself.
Faretta v. California, U.S. Sup. Ct. 1975 is the case cited for a defendant’s ultimate right to represent himself. In Faretta, the Supreme Court found that a judge must allow self-representation if a defendant is competent to understand and participate in his court proceedings. There are some basic criteria, but they are not complicated. In short, if a defendant can understand English and is not a complete buffoon, he or she must be allowed to represent himself.
There are many high-profile cases where the defendant represented himself. Colin Ferguson is one. He murdered six and wounded 19 on a Long Island train in 1993. Although every witness placed Ferguson in on the train, firing his 9MM handgun, he claimed somebody else had stolen his gun and begun firing while he slept on the train. He claimed “racism” is a ‘conspiracy’ against black people and referred to himself in third person. He was convicted, and the judge told him at sentencing – and in “legal-speak” – that he was human garbage. Representing one’s self is not a good choice, even with legal training — and Brooks has none.
In June, the judge in Brooks’ case denied Brooks’ motion for a change of venue. The community in which this trial is venued is predominantly white. “Expert” defense attorneys have raised questions about the fairness of picking an all white jury. As it turns out, the jury is all white. In the very likely event that he’s convicted, both of these rulings will be raised on appeal. And both have little prospect of being found prejudicial to his defense demanding a new trial. For the former, Brooks will need to show that he could not get a fair trial in the Waukesha venue because the jury was tainted by news reports. For the latter, Brooks will, on appeal, raise a De Facto exclusion argument. If no blacks were in the potential jury pool, that could be a an issue. I couldn’t find any demographics of the jury pool, so I don’t know if there were any blacks in the final pool of potential jurors. I doubt the prosecution examined any black jurors, then removed them, with a preemptory.
In any event, the trial started on rocky ground. Brooks was so disruptive, he was moved to a separate room where he could participate via video feed. However, his microphone is muted until it’s his time to “speak.”
Brooks’ lack of understanding how a courtroom works is evident in his questions. The prosecution’s lead attorney is very good. His opening was clear and direct. He pointed out that the police officer working security got a clear look at Brooks driving the SUV.
One glaring mistake that illustrates that Brooks doesn’t care about or understand the significance of witness examination and how answers are framed, was during cross of the police officer. Brooks was asking the officer who fired at the rampaging vehicle why he fired at the SUV. Brooks asked if the officer was trying to shoot the driver.
The officer answered and said, “Yes.” I was firing at “you.” Brooks, through cross-examining the police officer, placed himself in the driver’s seat.
Other witnesses have placed Brooks in the SUV. Also, home surveillance video shows a hooded man, matching Brooks description, running from the SUV, when Brooks tried to run from the police and was later found and arrested by police.
Brooks has asserted he doesn’t know anyone named “Darrell Brooks,” and referred to himself as a sovereign citizen.
The trial likely has another week of the prosecution’s case. What Brooks does for a defense is anyone’s guess. I don’t know if his defense will just be a word-salad of a closing, or if he will also call himself to the stand for a rant.
In any event, this doesn’t seem to be a hard call. The jury has a fair amount of evidence to review, but in the end, they will return a guilty verdict on all counts.