Eleventh Circuit Finds Co-Defendants’ Sixth Amendment Rights Not Violated After Defendant Flees Courtroom

In United States v. Stanley, Harris, No. 12-11126 (Jan. 6, 2014), the Eleventh Circuit held that a co-defendant (“Harris”) validly waived his right to counsel by fleeing the courtroom moments after moving to represent himself. Thus according to the Court, the district court did not err by refusing to allow standby counsel to represent the absconded Harris. Further, despite the co-defendant’s (“Stanley”) motion for mistrial alleging the undermining of his good faith defense in light of Harris’ flight, this Court affirmed the convictions and sentences as to both defendants.

The facts of this case are of particular interest. Co-defendants Harris and Stanley appeal their securities fraud convictions stemming from their alleged role(s) in a “pump and dump” scheme. Allegedly, this scheme involved misrepresentations by the co-defendants to artificially boost a company’s stock price thereby allowing insiders to sell inflated shares for a profit. Moments before opening statements Harris moved to represent himself and, after this motion was granted, he fled from justice.

Both defendants now contend that the district court’s response to Harris’ conduct violated their constitutional rights. Harris claims that his Sixth Amendment rights were violated both (1) because he did not validly waive his right to counsel, and (2) because his standby counsel was not permitted to represent him after he fled. Stanley moved for mistrial after Harris absconded claiming that both defendants’ good faith defenses were irreparably undermined by Harris’ flight.

The district court refused to grant a mistrial, citing the expense and delay it would cause by both (1) the burden it would impose on the government, witnesses, and victims; and (2) the fact that the defendants are not totally aligned. Further, although Stanley was not as culpable as Harris, Stanley was “obviously not a minimal participant” for purposes of a 3B1.2 reduction.

The district court did note, however, that Stanley’s lower culpability would be very relevant and accounted for at sentencing.

Thus, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the convictions and sentences as to both Defendants. In so finding, the Court upheld the district court’s findings that (1) Harris’ rights to counsel were not violated by allowing him to represent himself where an analysis under the Fitzpatrick factors strongly suggest that Harris’ waiver was knowing and intelligent; (2) in the face of Harris’ knowing and intelligent Sixth Amendment waiver, his right to counsel was not violated by refusing to allow standby counsel to represent him during the final days of trial; and (3) there was no abuse of discretion in the denial of Stanley’s motion for severance and mistrial despite his argument that Harris’ flight called both defendants’ good faith into question by implication.

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