Dakota County District Court File No. T90266001
Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding Judge; Peterson, Judge; and
A defendant's right to counsel is violated when a district court fails to obtain a written waiver of the right to counsel or make a record evidencing a refusal of counsel before requiring the defendant to represent himself at trial.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Peterson, Judge
In this appeal from disorderly conduct and fifth-degree-assault convictions, appellant Mark Thomas Hawanchak argues that the district court violated his right to counsel when, without obtaining a waiver of his right to counsel, the court required him to represent himself at trial. Appellant also argues that the district court violated his right to counsel when it denied his request for appointed counsel. We reverse and remand for a new trial.
Appellant was charged with three counts of fifth-degree assault and one count of disorderly conduct, all misdemeanor charges, stemming from an incident that occurred on May 11, 2002. When appellant was arraigned, he was informed of his constitutional rights, including his right to be represented by counsel.
The week before trial, appellant applied for court-appointed counsel. Appellant reported that he was recently unemployed; had $8,000 in assets; and monthly expenses of $2,500. Appellant stated on the application form that he had "tried to hire two attorneys and could not afford either."
On December 6, 2002, the district court granted appellant's request for the services of a public defender, subject to a determination of whether appellant would be required to reimburse the state for part of the cost of his defense. Appellant's application and the district court order were apparently misplaced, and on December 9, 2002, the first day of trial, appellant submitted a second application that was substantially the same as the first, but reported additional assets and liabilities. Appellant reported that he owned real estate valued at $109,000; had a mortgage in the amount of $150,000;*fn1 and owned two vehicles valued at $20,000 each.
Before the trial began, the district court instructed appellant about trial procedure, and appellant asked about his court-appointed counsel:
[APPELLANT]: Can I—I would like an opportunity to find out what happened to ...