United States v. French

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Law
  • Date Filed: 04-07-2014
  • Case #: 12-10185
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Nguyen for the Court; Circuit Judge Fisher; Dissent by Circuit Judge Noonan
  • Full Text Opinion

A defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to self-representation is not violated when a court adequately advises the defendant of the disadvantages of foregoing counsel and the defendant affirms his or her wish to proceed pro se is voluntary; a conviction for money laundering will be reversed when the state fails to provide sufficient evidence that the defendant “knowingly” engaged in the transaction.

Jennifer Lynn French was convicted on multiple counts of fraud and money laundering for tricking customers on her eBay website into making advance payments for kitchen appliances which she never delivered. French and her then husband, a co-defendant, appeared pro se. On appeal, French raised several claims including a Sixth Amendment right to self-representation violation, challenging the validity of her waiver of counsel. She also claimed that the evidence offered at trial was insufficient to convict her. The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to self-representation but requires that a defendant must “knowingly and intelligently forego” the benefits of exercising the right to counsel. French argued both that the warnings of the court as to the drawbacks “terrified” her and her decision to represent herself was a result of her then husband’s physical and emotional abuse. The Ninth Circuit rejected her contention, holding that the lower court “adequately apprised French of the disadvantages of self-representation” with respect to all of the stages of litigation and French verbally affirmed that her wish to proceed pro se was voluntary. Further, the panel held that her right to self-representation was not violated when her husband (who also proceeded pro se) conducted witness examination and cross-examination on her behalf. Next, the panel affirmed the mail and wire fraud convictions, holding that the state presented “considerable circumstantial evidence of her intent to defraud.” However, the panel reversed the money laundering convictions, holding that, while the state had sufficient evidence as to the husband’s involvement in the money-laundering scheme, it failed to provide evidence that French “knowingly” engaged in the transactions. AFFIRMED in part; REVERSED in part.

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