Faretta v. California

Following is the case brief for Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806 (1975)

Case Summary of Faretta v. California:

  • Criminal defendant Faretta wished to represent himself in his criminal trial.  The trial court, however, appointed a lawyer for Faretta.  The court found that he did not knowing and intelligently waive his right to counsel.
  • A jury convicted Faretta, and he was sentenced to prison.
  • On appeal, the state appellate court affirmed the conviction and the trial court’s decision with regard to Faretta representing himself.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court reversed.  It held that there is a constitutional right to self-representation provided the waiver of counsel was knowing and intelligent.

Faretta v. California Case Brief

Statement of the Facts:

Petitioner, Anthony Faretta, was charged with grand theft.  Weeks before trial, Faretta asked the trial court to allow him to represent himself, and the court agreed.  However, as the trial date neared, the court held another hearing with Faretta.  After asking him about hearsay and voir dire rules, the court determined that Faretta could not represent himself and appointed a public defender to handle Faretta’s defense.  The court held that Faretta had not made a knowing and intelligent waiver of his right to assistance of counsel, and that there is no constitutional right to self representation.

During the trial, the court refused to let Faretta act as co-counsel and required that Faretta’s defense only be conducted through counsel.  The jury ultimately convicted Faretta.  He was sentenced to prison.

Procedural History:

  • On appeal, the California Court of Appeal affirmed Faretta’s conviction and the trial court’s ruling that Faretta had no constitutional right to represent himself.
  • The California Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Issue and Holding:

Is there a federal constitutional right to represent oneself in criminal court, provided the waiver of counsel is knowing and intelligent?  Yes.


The judgment of the California Court of Appeal is vacated and the case is remanded.

Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

A defendant in a criminal trial has the constitutional right to proceed without the assistance of counsel when he voluntarily and intelligently requests to do so.


  • Statute and Court precedent support a right of self representation.

In the federal courts, criminal defendants have had the option to represent themselves since the beginning of this Nation.  This Court has enunciated that same view.  In Adams v. United States ex rel. McCann, 317 U.S. 269 (1942), the Court stated that the right to the assistance of counsel implicitly allows for the right to decline a lawyer’s help.  Indeed, many U.S. Courts of Appeals have held that the right of self-representation is protected by the Bill of Rights.

  • The structure of the Sixth Amendment supports the right of self representation.

The right of self-representation can be found in the structure of the Sixth Amendment.  The Sixth Amendment speaks directly about the accused having the tools to mount a defense, and to have the assistance of counsel.  The focus on the accused, and the use of the term “assistance” of counsel, implies that the accused may decide whether to avail himself of that assistance.

  • English and early American legal history support the same right.

The Sixth Amendment’s roots in English legal history and the common practice of the early American colonies demonstrate that the accused has never had a lawyer forced upon him in any objective court system.  Although the Court has a substantial body of law geared towards protecting a defendant’s right to counsel, that does not mean that counsel should be forced upon an unwilling defendant.

Dissenting Opinion (Burger):

There is nothing desirable or useful in allowing a defendant, who does not know the art of practicing law, to represent himself in court.  The Court’s stated constitutional rule will lead to many good faith prosecutions being reversed on appeal because the trial court was not able to have a lawyer represent the accused.

Dissenting Opinion (Blackmun):

There is no textual support in the Sixth Amendment to justify the Court’s constitutional rule on self representation.  Also, the historical precedent used by the majority is unpersuasive.  The constitutional right to represent oneself will certainly lead to procedural problems in the courts.  Finally, with regard to the old proverb, “a person who represents himself has a fool for a client,” the Court’s decision makes it a constitutional right to make a fool of oneself.


Faretta v. California presents a debate between allowing a defendant to be the master of his own criminal defense, and the practical reality of the difficulties non-lawyers face in a modern courtroom.  While the dissenting Justices of Faretta v. California were concerned about procedural confusion resulting from the Court’s holding, it does not appear that there has been a high volume of pro se defendants causing confusion in the court system.

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