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Criminal Practice – Capital Case – Self-Representation – Competence to Stand Trial

State v. Barnes (Lawyers Weekly No. 010-008-14, 38 pp.) (Costa M. Pleicones, J.) (Jean Hoefer Toal, Ch.J., joined by John W. Kittredge, J., dissenting)Appealed from Edgefield County Circuit Court (R. Knox McMahon, J.) Substituted opinion. S.C. S. Ct.

Holding: A defendant who is competent to stand trial is also competent to represent himself, even in a capital case. Since the trial court denied defendant the right to self-representation, defendant is entitled to a new trial.

The court declines to adopt the higher competency standard permitted by Indiana v. Edwards, 554 U.S. 164 (2008).


(Toal, Ch.J.) I would hold that S.C. trial courts may “insist upon representation by counsel for those competent enough to stand trial … but who still suffer from mental illness to the point where they are not competent to conduct trial proceedings by themselves.” Edwards.

Defendants clearly have a constitutional right to self-representation; however, this right must bow to the competing concern that “death is different,” and trial courts must do everything legitimately within their power to ensure that these trials are fair and that the proceedings and verdict are especially reliable.

Here, the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it assessed defendant’s mental and psychiatric history, demeanor, and the importance of the impending trial in deciding that defendant could not adequately represent himself.

Defendant has also failed to show prejudicial error in (1) the trial court’s acceptance of a defense witness’s in camera testimony as to defendant’s competency to waive counsel, (2) the trial court’s limitation of voir dire questions, or (3) the delay in scheduling defendant’s trial.

This court should affirm defendant’s conviction and sentence.

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