Law School Case Brief
United States v. Midgett - 342 F.3d 321 (4th Cir. 2003)
A defendant in a criminal proceeding is entitled to certain rights. He is entitled to all of them; he cannot be forced to barter one for another. When the exercise of one right is made contingent upon the forbearance of another, both rights are corrupted.
Defendant Paul Dameron Midgett was convicted for throwing a cup of gasoline in the victim's face and then setting the gasoline on fire after the victim gave Midgett his wallet. He was also convicted for using a similar technique later the same day to rob a bank. Before and during his trial in federal district court, Midgett and his counsel disagreed as to whether Midgett should testify that another party, rather than himself, committed the first assault. The district court repeatedly offered Midgett the choice of representing himself or continuing with his counsel. Each time Midgett chose to continue with his counsel but expressed his desire to testify. Midgett's counsel made several motions to withdraw as counsel, one being after the government rested its case and Midgett's motion for acquittal was denied. Rather than permitting his lawyer to withdraw, the court offered Midgett the choice of either acceding to defense counsel's refusal to put him on the stand or representing himself without further assistance of counsel. Ultimately, Midgett continued with his counsel, he did not testify, and he was convicted. Defense counsel's subsequent motion to withdraw was granted. New counsel was appointed and immediately filed a motion for new trial, which was denied; several further motions for new trial were subsequently filed and denied turn. Midgett appealed.
Did the district court err in conditioning Midgett's right to counsel on his waiver of his right to testify?
The appellate court vacated Midgett's convictions and remanded the matter for a new trial. The court held that the district court erred by forcing Midgett to choose between his right to a lawyer and his right to testify on his own behalf, and therefore Midgett was entitled to a new trial. According to the court, the district court based its ultimatum on an inappropriate weighing of the evidence, as it treated as irrefutable proof of Midgett's intent to commit perjury the fact that he did not produce corroborating witnesses and sought merely to offer his own testimony concerning the attack.
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