Faretta v. California

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Faretta v. California
Seal of the United States Supreme Court
Argued November 19, 1974
Decided June 30, 1975
Full case nameAnthony Faretta v. State of California
Citations422 U.S. 806 (more)
95 S. Ct. 2525; 45 L. Ed. 2d 562; 1975 U.S. LEXIS 83
Case history
PriorOn writ of Certiorari to the Court of Appeal of California, Second Appellate District
A criminal defendant in a state proceeding has a constitutional right to knowingly refuse the aid of an attorney.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Warren E. Burger
Associate Justices
William O. Douglas · William J. Brennan Jr.
Potter Stewart · Byron White
Thurgood Marshall · Harry Blackmun
Lewis F. Powell Jr. · William Rehnquist
Case opinions
MajorityStewart, joined by Douglas, Brennan, White, Marshall, Powell
DissentBurger, joined by Blackmun, Rehnquist
DissentBlackmun, joined by Burger, Rehnquist

Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806 (1975),[1] was a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that criminal defendants have a constitutional right to refuse counsel and represent themselves in state criminal proceedings.

Facts of the case[edit]

The defendant Anthony Faretta was accused of grand theft in Los Angeles County, California. Well before the trial began, the defendant requested permission to represent himself. Questioning by the judge revealed that he had once represented himself in a criminal case and that he believed that the public defender's office was under a heavy case load. The judge warned him that he was making a mistake and emphasized that he would receive no special treatment. The judge entered a preliminary ruling allowing Faretta to represent himself, however stating that he might reverse his decision if it seemed that he was unable to adequately represent himself.

Several weeks later, but still before the trial, the judge initiated a hearing to inquire into Faretta's ability to defend himself. After questioning him on numerous topics, including hearsay and juries, the judge ruled that his answers were inadequate and he had not made an intelligent decision to waive counsel. In addition he ruled that Faretta had no constitutional right to his own defense. Therefore, he rescinded his previous decision. During the trial the judge denied Faretta's motions to be co-counsel and other motions he attempted to make on his behalf. Subsequently, he was convicted by a jury and sentenced to life in prison.

The California Court of Appeal, which relied on a recent California Supreme Court decision that had expressly decided the issue, ruled that Faretta had no federal or state right to represent himself. Appeal to the Supreme Court of California was denied.

Opinion of the court[edit]

In the opinion of the court by Justice Stewart, the Court held that a defendant in a state criminal trial has the constitutional right to refuse appointed counsel and conduct the trial when he or she voluntarily and intelligently elects to do so. However, such a defendant may not later complain that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. The court brought analogies to the Star Chamber, saying "the Star Chamber has, for centuries, symbolized disregard of basic individual rights. The Star Chamber not merely allowed, but required, defendants to have counsel. The defendant's answer to an indictment was not accepted unless it was signed by counsel. When counsel refused to sign the answer, for whatever reason, the defendant was considered to have confessed."[2]


Justice Blackmun wrote a dissent where he questioned the additional procedural problems that would inevitably arise by the decision, arguing that such procedural problems would far outweigh whatever tactical advantage the defendant may feel he has gained by electing to represent himself. Blackmun concludes with the following: "If there is any truth to the old proverb 'one who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client,' the Court by its opinion today now bestows a constitutional right on one to make a fool of himself."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806 (1975).
  2. ^ 422 U.S. at 821-22.

Further reading[edit]

  • Chused, Richard H. (1977). "Faretta and the Personal Defense: The Role of a Represented Defendant in Trial Tactics". California Law Review. 65 (3): 636–685. doi:10.2307/3480027.
  • Slobogin, Christopher (2009). "Mental Illness and Self-Representation: Faretta, Godinez and Edwards". Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law. 7 (1): 391–411. hdl:1811/73146.

External links[edit]