A Fool For A Client
Lawyers will be familiar with the old saying, oft-repeated, that “who represents themself has a fool for a client.” A pair of co-conspirators in the Sixth Circuit case of US v. Tucci-Jarraf eventually saw the wisdom in this aphorism, but only after having insisted on representing themselves. The duo ended up convicted of money laundering and sentenced to years in prison. Now they say that the judge shouldn’t have allowed them to represent themselves.
The Right to Counsel
The right to legal counsel is safeguarded by the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution. Although the right to a minimum level of competence on the part of a criminal defense attorney, the Sixth Amendment does not promise any particular level of competence on the part of those who choose to represent themselves.
As the court pointed out, the right to waive counsel includes the right to waive effective counsel, leaving the self-represented free to behave as eccentrically as they please. So long as the waiver was knowing and intelligent the judge can allow a defendant to represent themselves without appointing counsel.
Too Smart for Their Own Good
Tucci-Jarraf and her co-defendant’s foolish choice was ironically supported by other evidence of their intelligence and sophistication. Heather Tucci-Jarraf is a former attorney who advised and assisted Randall Beane, a former Air Force electrical engineer, in his attempts to eliminate debts he had accumulated.
The duo followed a line of logic established by the sovereign citizen movement that proposed that the government had secretly created an alternate identity for each citizen that allowed the Federal Reserve to hold their limitless “inherent value” in trust. Their theory said that through some clever filing they could access this value. However, their actions instead resulted in the theft on nearly $31 million.
The defenses they raised while self-represented were arcane and bizarre in the typical sovereign citizen fashion. They requested hearings on the identities of themselves, arresting officers, and the judge. They asserted that they couldn’t be held and that the United States is a “bankrupt corporation.” They submitted hundreds of Uniform Commercial Code pages into evidence and billed the court for $46 quintillion dollars.
They were also convicted. The Court of Appeals pointed out that the defendants were both professionals who had defended themselves in legal matters previously. The crimes involved complex financial activity, which showed that both were reasonably intelligent. Neither had a history of psychological problems.
The Price of Freedom
The court waxed philosophic in its affirmation of the lower court’s decision to allow the pair to represent themselves. “Membership in our democracy, sad to say, does not come with an unlimited trust fund, at least a financial one. But it does come with a view of the dignity of individuals to make weighty decisions for themselves[…] Exercising these rights sometimes costs individuals more than they ever could stand to gain. But the Constitution lets American citizens learn that lesson the hard way.”
- Self-Representation: The Perils of PRO SE (FindLaw’s Corporation Counsel)
- Courts Must Correct Pro Se Defendant’s Misunderstandings (FindLaw’s Eleventh Circuit Blog)
- When Lawyers Need a Lawyer: Why are Lawyers the Worst Pro Se Litigants? (FindLaw’s Strategist)
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
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