Oliver appeals his convictions for malice murder and
aggravated assault in connection with the June 26, 2014
shooting death of Rayonte Weems. Oliver argues that he
invoked his right to self-representation and that the trial
court erred by failing to hold a hearing pursuant to
Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806, 819 (95 S.Ct.
2525, 45 L.Ed.2d 562) (1975). We affirm because Oliver never
unequivocally asserted his right to self-representation.
trial evidence viewed in the light most favorable to the
verdicts showed that at around 11:00 p.m. on June 26, 2014,
Weems, accompanied by his girlfriend Yani Conner and his
friend Theodore Rollins, drove to a residence in DeKalb
County to sell marijuana to Oliver. Weems was driving a black
Weems's arrival, Oliver, who was with some friends,
walked up to the driver's side window and gave Weems
twelve or thirteen dollars for some marijuana. After Weems
drove away, Oliver believed the marijuana did not smell right
and became angry.
received a call a short time later to return to the same
location as before because Oliver wanted his money back.
Conner and Rollins were still with Weems, and Oliver and his
friends were still at the residence. On arrival, Weems got
out of the car, unarmed, grabbed Oliver by his shirt, and
yelled at Oliver for insinuating that Weems had sold him
low-grade marijuana. Rollins also got out of the car but
remained uninvolved. After the brief argument, Weems turned
around and walked back towards the car.
pulled out a black 9 mm handgun and started firing. He shot
Weems five times, Rollins five or six times, and Conner once.
Weems died quickly, but Rollins and Conner survived their
injuries. As Oliver began shooting, his friends fled; he
Oliver laughed and bragged to his friends that he had
"burnt them n****s," "dumped on those
n****s" or "shot them n****s." After his
arrest, Oliver tried to solicit another inmate as an alibi
witness, telling him about the shooting and explaining that
he shot Weems's friends because he did not want any
Although Oliver does not challenge the sufficiency of the
evidence, we have independently reviewed the record and
conclude that the evidence presented at trial was legally
sufficient to authorize a rational trier of fact to find
beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty of the crimes
for which he was convicted. See Jackson v. Virginia,
443 U.S. 307, 319 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979).
Oliver argues that the trial court erred by failing to hold a
Faretta hearing after he invoked his right to
self-representation. We disagree.
right of a criminal defendant to self-representation is
guaranteed by both the federal and state constitutions.
Wiggins v. State, 298 Ga. 366, 368 (2) (782 S.E.2d
31) (2016); see also Faretta, 422 U.S. at 819
("Although not stated in the [Sixth] Amendment in so
many words, the right to self-representation -- to make
one's own defense personally -- is . . . necessarily
implied by the structure of the Amendment."); Ga. Const.
of 1983, Art. I, Sec. I, Par. XII ("No person shall be
deprived of the right to prosecute or defend, either in
person or by an attorney, that person's own cause in any
of the courts of this state."). To avail himself of this
right, a defendant must clearly and unequivocally assert his
desire to represent himself. Faretta, 422 U.S. at
835-836; Wiggins, 298 Ga. at 368 (2). If an
unequivocal invocation is made, it must be followed by a
hearing to ensure that the defendant "knowingly and
intelligently waives the traditional benefits associated with
the right to counsel and understands the disadvantages of
self-representation so that the record will establish that he
knows what he is doing and his choice is made with eyes
open." Wiggins, 298 Ga. at 368 (2) (quoting
Faretta, 422 U.S. at 835-836 (punctuation omitted)).
The improper denial of the right to self-representation is a
structural error not subject to a harmlessness analysis, and
requires automatic reversal. McKaskle v. Wiggins,
465 U.S. 168, 177 n. 8 (104 S.Ct. 944, 79 L.Ed.2d 122)
(1984); Wiggins, 298 Ga. at 370 (2).
trial court did not err by failing to hold a Faretta
hearing; Oliver never unequivocally asserted his right to
self-representation. The only evidence Oliver points to as
proof of his invocation is a June 26, 2015 pro se petition he
filed while represented by counsel titled "Petition To:
Dismiss and Reappoint Indigent Council." The petition
expressed dissatisfaction with counsel and stated that:
. . . In light of my current petition please accept my
request to act upon my own behalf (Pro-Se) until this matter
is heard and resolved in your court. I hereby petition the
court for new appointment of counsel.
to Oliver's contentions, both the title and the content
of this petition reflected a request for the appointment of
new counsel; it was not an unequivocal invocation of
the right of self-representation for trial. See, e.g.,
Danenberg v. State, 291 Ga. 439, 440-441 (2) (729
S.E.2d 315) (2012) (defendant's note to court asking to
dismiss trial counsel and replace them with retained counsel,
a public defender, or himself was not an unequivocal
assertion of right to self-representation).
Oliver went to trial with counsel without any objection or
even mention of it to the trial court and complained only
after trial. Acquiescence to the "substantial
participation by counsel" at trial "obliterates any
claim that such participation in question deprived [Oliver]