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Williams v. State

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

April 30, 2019


          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 11/06/2017






          CARLTON, P.J.

         ¶1. A Sharkey County grand jury indicted Frankie L. Williams for murder (Count I) and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon (Count II). A unanimous jury found Williams guilty as charged. The trial court sentenced Williams to serve life imprisonment for Count I and ten years for Count II in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC), with Williams's sentences to run concurrently. On appeal, Williams asserts that (1) he is entitled to a new trial because the trial court violated his right to represent himself; and (2) he received ineffective assistance of counsel because his lawyer should have stipulated to his prior felony conviction rather than allowing the State to offer the sentencing order into evidence. For the reasons addressed below, we affirm Williams's sentences and convictions. Based on the record, we find no merit to Williams's claim that the trial court violated his right of self-representation. We dismiss Williams's ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim without prejudice so that he may pursue relief on this alleged error in a petition for post-conviction relief.


         I. Relevant Pre-trial Proceedings

         ¶2. Prior to Williams's trial, his defense counsel filed a motion requesting that Williams undergo a mental evaluation to ascertain certain issues, including whether Williams suffered from any definable or recognizable mental conditions; whether Williams would be able to assist counsel in preparing a defense; and whether Williams was competent to stand trial. The trial court granted the motion. There was no request for an evaluation of whether Williams was competent to waive representation.

         ¶3. In March 2017, after considering the psychological evaluation reports provided, the trial court ordered that Williams undergo additional mental evaluation, and, if deemed necessary and appropriate, that Williams be admitted and treated at the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield, Mississippi (Whitfield). At Williams's May 2017 competency hearing, the trial court stated, in relevant part, that according to the report from the doctors at Whitfield, Williams had the sufficient present ability to consult and work with his attorney with a reasonable degree of rational understanding in preparation of a defense. There was no finding that Williams desired to waive counsel and represent himself. On the contrary, Williams raised the issue of obtaining a bond reduction so he could get his own attorney, rather than the lawyers appointed for him. The trial court told Williams that if he wanted a bond reduction, or new counsel, he would need to file a motion for that request. No motion was filed.

         ¶4. Five months later, on the first day of trial, defense counsel told the trial court, "I think [Williams] wants to fire counsel." This statement was made out of Williams's presence and the following discussion then took place between counsel and the trial court:

COURT: It[']s too late for that[, ] and [Williams] is not qualified to represent himself. So, just tell him that we are going forward with the trial at this stage. I don't need to hear any more from him[.] I've heard enough from him. He has [two attorneys] who are able to represent him[, ] and we are going forward unless he want[s] to plea.
DEFENSE: No, he does not want to plea. Is it permissible for either me or him to make a motion before the [c]ourt that he be permitted to try himself?
COURT: I've seen enough [of h]is antics over the last four years to say that he is not qualified to serve as his own counsel. I mean[, ] the record is [replete with] . . . motions that he has filed pro se. I have dealt with a lot of them trying to bend over backwards to understand his right to do that[, ] but at some point[, ] and we are at the point[, ] . . . procedure has to take over. We are going . . . into trial and I cannot be here for two or three weeks trying to decipher what his motions are. Most of them . . . I have dealt with . . . as best that I could [while] not knowing what he was trying to say and what he was trying to ask for. But we are now at the edge of trial. I have a jury that is going to be selected. I have to procedurally proceed in a way that a higher court will be able to understand what I'm doing. And therefore his learned attorneys are there to make sure that we do it within the rules of the [c]ourt[, ] and we are going to do that. Now, I will respect all of his rights[, ] and if he needs to ask a question[, ] I will let you go back to the bench and ask whatever he wants to be asked of a witness. We will do that as best we can and as long as we don't [prolong] or get too far.
COURT: . . . But I am again making the ruling that he cannot represent himself. The [c]ourt has over the last four years dealt with pro se motions from Mr. Williams that have made no sense at all[.] I won't say, no sense, but had no bearing at all in terms of what the law really is. And we have tried to accommodate him in that. We now are at the point that we are going to trial and we have to have a court record so that everyone understands what is going on. . . . [B]elieve me, whatever witnesses he wants to call, I'm going to let him call those witnesses. Whatever questions he wants to ask of those witnesses[, ] he will ask through [counsel]. But I am not going to let him prolong this. We will be here two or three weeks with him trying to question a witness or even put forth any argument. Now, if you want me to say that to him, I will clear the courtroom and say that to him. But I am just saying that I can't let him make a forest of this trial here. [Counsel] will try this case and not him.

         ¶5. Later the same day, outside the hearing of the prospective jurors, the following exchange took place between Williams and the trial court:

WILLIAMS: [P]ertaining to the case that me and Mr. R[] and [Mr. D], [1] he said, for the record, that I had asked them to be excused but he said for some reason that-
COURT: Well, Mr. Williams[, ] let me tell you what I told [counsel]. I am not-he has been appointed to represent you along with [co-counsel]. . . . [T]he [c]ourt is ruling that they are your attorneys. Now, I told them that if you have . . . something to ask that you tell . . . them what you want to ask and they will ask that question[, ] and if they think that it is improper then [they] will . . . tell me that is what you asked for and I will tell you whether or not I am going to allow that question to be asked. You understand how we are going to do it? . . . .
WILLIAMS: Well, it is pertaining to the point to (inaudible) with governing to have a file and your class or process against the law is to have what would be his true and understanding of what his physical factors concerning the State nor has the State determined to me that he is required to be governor or ruler of this case.
COURT: Governor?
WILLIAMS: For this fact, labor and-
COURT: Let me get something straight with you. Did you hear what I said Mr. Williams?
WILLIAMS: He feels that his value should be-
COURT: I'm going to let you ask whatever question you want to ask. But it will be through your attorneys and let the record reflect that I am telling you that. Any question that you want to ask of a witness or something like that then it will be asked by [your attorneys]. That is all I'm saying and if there is a dispute in terms of whether or not it can be asked then they will present that to the [c]ourt[, ] and I will let you know my ruling . . . . And that is the procedure that I am using going forward. . . .
WILLIAMS: For the record, it is understanding that me and [Mr. R] are not in compliance of lawyer/client privilege.
COURT: . . . [Mr. R] is the attorney of record that has been on this case for the last two years or a year and a half and he is going to try it, along with [Mr. D], and anything that you want to ask, as I said before, that it will be asked through [them].
WILLIAMS: For the record, I don't feel satisfied with his judgment.
COURT: Yes, sir.
WILLIAMS: [O]fficially, . . . [Mr. R], acting by counsel, rules himself what he wants to (inaudible).
COUNSEL (Mr. R): He asked me to remove myself.
COURT: The [c]ourt has ordered you . . . to try this case. Now, that is the order of the [c]ourt to try this case to the best of your ability which I know that you will do and that is all that the [c]ourt can ask you to do, along with [co-counsel].

         II. The Trial

         ¶6. The State's first witness was Roy Sias, the Assistant Chief of the Anguilla Police Department. He testified that around 9:00 p.m. on August 23, 2012, he responded to a shooting at the Double Luck Club in Anguilla, Mississippi. When Officer Sias arrived, a group of thirty-five to fifty people were gathered around a body on the street. The victim, who was later identified as Patrick Tate, had been fatally shot in the chest. Officer Sias testified that three or four ...

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