Houston Court: Judge Did Not Err in Allowing Sexual Assault Defendant to Act as His Own Attorney

May 27th, 2020 by Tad Nelson in Sex Crime

Sex crimes prosecutions are some of the more complex cases handled by the Texas judicial system. They often involve scientific evidence and multiple witnesses. It is therefore critical that the defendant has experienced representation from a criminal defense attorney who understands the rules of evidence and other aspects of the process.

It should go without saying that you should never attempt to represent yourself in a sex crimes case. While you do have a constitutional right to self-representation, keep in mind the consequences of a sex crime conviction in Texas are severe–you may be facing decades in prison depending on the nature of the charges. And judges will not go easy on a defendant who decides to forego their right to counsel.

Indeed, one Houston man learned that lesson the hard way recently. Not only did he represent himself at his trial on sexual assault charges; he lost and then tried to argue the judge erred by letting him represent himself in the first place. Not surprisingly, the appeals court was not sympathetic to this argument.

Here is some additional background on the case, Phankhao v. State. Prosecutors charged the defendant with sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl in 2015. The alleged victim was the daughter of one of the defendant’s friends. Following the defendant’s indictment, the trial court-appointed counsel for the defendant. The defendant then opted to hire his own attorney. But this second attorney later withdrew and the court named a public defender to represent the defendant.

Not satisfied with his third lawyer, the defendant told the judge he wishes to represent himself. The judge then held what is known in legal circles as a “Faretta hearing.” This is named for a U.S. Supreme Court decision that established a criminal defendant’s right to refuse counsel in state criminal proceedings.

The judge actually held two hearings. After the first hearing, the judge decided not to permit the defendant to proceed without an attorney. But the court reversed itself after the second hearing. During this second hearing, the judge asked the defendant about his “background, age, experience, and education.” Although the defendant was educated, he had “no prior legal experience and no legal background.” Nevertheless, the judge said the defendant could represent himself at trial, warning him that he “would be held to the same standard” as an attorney.

The jury proceeded to find the defendant guilty. The judge sentenced him to life in prison. On appeal–now represented by counsel–the defendant argued that the trial court erred in allowing him to represent himself.

The Texas First District Court of Appeals rejected this argument. The crux of the defendant’s position was that the judge failed to advise him of the charges against him at the second Faretta hearing. The appeals court said no such warning was necessary. The defendant had already been informed of the charges against him on several prior occasions. Nor was the trial judge required to provide “more detailed admonitions in this particular case due to the gravity of the offense.”

Get Help from a Houston Sex Crimes Defense Lawyer Today

When you are facing the possibility of life in prison, representing yourself should not even be something that you consider. This is not arguing over a traffic ticket. If you are accused of a sex offense or sex crime and need representation from a qualified criminal defense attorney, contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Houston, Galveston or League City today by calling 281-280-0100


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