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Rutledge v. State

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Fourth Division

June 14, 2019

RUTLEDGE
v.
THE STATE.

          DOYLE, P. J., COOMER and MARKLE, JJ.

          Coomer, Judge.

         Gregory Rutledge, Jr. was indicted on one count of aggravated stalking after he was accused of sending harassing text messages to his ex-wife in violation of a temporary restraining order. Following a jury trial at which he elected to represent himself, Rutledge was convicted and sentenced the same day. Rutledge filed a motion for new trial, as amended, alleging the trial court erred in allowing him to proceed pro se without first establishing that he made a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary waiver of his right to counsel. After conducting a hearing on the motion, the trial court denied Rutledge's request for a new trial.[1] On appeal, Rutledge again argues that he is entitled to a new trial because the trial court failed to make a finding in the record that Rutledge's waiver of his right to counsel was knowingly and voluntarily made. Because the totality of the record demonstrates that Rutledge's decision to waive his right to counsel was knowing, intelligent, and voluntary, we disagree and affirm.

         It is well established that "both the federal and state constitutions guarantee a criminal defendant the right to self-representation. To be valid, a defendant's waiver of his right to be represented by counsel must be knowingly and intelligently made." State v. Evans, 285 Ga. 67, 68 (673 S.E.2d 243) (2009) (citations and punctuation omitted). To establish waiver, our Supreme Court has held that "[t]he record need only reflect that the accused was made aware of the dangers of self-representation and nevertheless made a knowing and intelligent waiver." Jones v. State, 272 Ga. 884, 886 (2) (536 S.E.2d 511) (2000) (citations and punctuation omitted). "The trial judge is not required to use any particular language in making the defendant aware of his right to counsel and the dangers of self-representation." Martin-Argaw v. State, 343 Ga.App. 864, 867 (2) (806 S.E.2d 247) (2017) (citations omitted). However, "when a defendant challenges an alleged waiver on appeal, it is the State's burden to prove that the defendant received sufficient information and guidance from the trial court upon which to knowingly and intelligently relinquish this right." Hamilton v. State, 233 Ga.App. 463, 467 (1) (b) (504 S.E.2d 236) (1998) (citations omitted). "This evidence must overcome the presumption against waiver." Id. (citations omitted). "The trial court's ruling as to whether the defendant's waiver of the right to counsel was valid is reviewed for abuse of discretion." Cox v. State, 317 Ga.App. 654, 654 (732 S.E.2d 321) (2012) (footnote omitted).

         With these guiding principles in mind, the record shows that Rutledge was charged with one count of aggravated stalking after sending text messages to his former wife in violation of a temporary restraining order that prohibited him from having any direct or indirect contact with her. At his arraignment hearing, Rutledge was appointed counsel, entered a plea of not guilty, and was presented with a copy of the indictment, a list of the State's witnesses, and a plea offer letter. Rutledge later appeared with his appointed counsel, William Rhodes, for a status hearing where he was advised of the nature of the charge against him and the range of allowable punishment for the charge. On the morning of trial, Rutledge appeared with Rhodes to argue pre-trial motions. After the trial court denied Rutledge's pre-trial motions, Rutledge, through counsel, announced that he wanted to proceed with a jury trial. The court recessed and Rutledge was taken back to a holding area where he spoke with Rhodes and indicated that he wanted to represent himself. Following a conference between the trial court and Rhodes, Rutledge told the trial court that he and Rhodes were "on a different page" with respect to certain evidence and how it would be used during the trial. The trial court then told Rutledge that Rhodes is "an experienced trial attorney" and "has a comprehensive understanding of . . . the law." Rutledge responded that "there seems to be unsurety[sic] as far as, you know, us moving forward, the case as far as a plea as opposed to a jury trial." The trial court then reminded Rutledge that there are times when attorneys tell their clients things that the client does not want to hear, but that if Rutledge wanted a trial, Rhodes would provide the best defense possible. The trial court asked Rutledge what he wanted the court to do. Rhodes then stated on the record that he explained to Rutledge he had the option to continue the trial, ask for new appointed counsel, or represent himself with Rhodes as standby counsel. The following exchange occurred between Rutledge and the trial court:

RUTLEDGE: I wish to proceed pro se and with standby counsel.
TRIAL COURT: You are seriously going to embark on a jury trial representing yourself?
RUTLEDGE: It's my case, Your Honor.
TRIAL COURT: That wasn't my question.
RUTLEDGE: Yes, sir.
TRIAL COURT: So the answer is yes.
RUTLEDGE: Yes, sir.
TRIAL COURT: Are you prepared to do ...

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