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Speedy trial, incompetence to go pro se, and freedom of religion claims fail on appeal

State v. Maries D. Addison, 2018AP55-57-CR, 3/26/19, District 1 (not recommended for publication); case activity (including briefs)

The court of appeals agreed that the 17-month delay in bringing Addison to trial was presumptively prejudicial, but based on the unique facts of this case, it held that his speedy trial rights weren’t violated. Addison did a fine job representing himself (he got “not guilty” verdicts on 5 of 22 counts) so his “incompetency to proceed pro se” claim went nowhere. Plus his freedom of religion claim (right to have a Bible with him during trial) failed because his argument was insufficiently developed. 

Speedy trial claim. This case has a long procedural history (¶¶3-14), which you must understand in order to truly appreciate the court of appeals’ ruling on Addison’s speedy trial claim. Suffice it to say that of the 15-month delay, 10 months was attributable to the State but Addison still failed the 4-part balancing test for a speedy trial violation. See Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 530 (1972)(1. length of delay; 2. reason for delay; 3. whether defendant asserted speedy trial rights; 4. whether delay prejudiced defendant). The State had consolidated 3 separate cases against Addison, and he did not object to those consolidations or to other delays:

¶44 . . . While the ten months of delay attributable to the State are not insignificant, as we concluded above, no part of the delay weighs heavily against the State. See [State v. Urdahl, 2005 WI App 191, ¶37, 286 Wis. 2d 476, 705 N.W.2d 324.] Further, as we noted, four months of the delay were due to the trial court’s congested calendar. See id. Additionally, after asserting his right to a speedy trial, Addison acquiesced in the State’s consolidation requests and sought continuances which significantly diminished the weight of that demand. See Williams, 270 Wis. 2d 761, ¶26. As noted by the postconviction court, the longest delays were due to delays jointly requested by the State and Addison, and due to the fact that the cases involved voluminous discovery materials, multiple charges, and multiple witnesses. Moreover, Addison’s showing of prejudice is minimal. Thus, we conclude that under the totality of the circumstances there was no violation of Addison’s right to a speedy trial.

Change of counsel/competence to proceed pro se. Addison did not like his trial lawyer and so filed an OLR complaint against her. Three weeks before trial, she moved to withdraw and Addison requested a new lawyer. The trial court denied both because it did not believe that a conflict really existed. Instead, it held that Addison was trying to create the conflict in order to delay the trial. Opinion, ¶50. This prompted Addison to ask to go pro se. The trial court conducted a colloquy to determine his competence to do so and granted the request but appointed his trial lawyer as standby counsel. Addison represented himself at a 2-week trial and at sentencing. On appeal he claimed that he was incompetent to represent himself. But as noted at the top of his post, his ability to get 5 acquittals doomed this argument from the outset. Opinion, ¶55.

Freedom of religion. This is the most interesting issue. Allegedly Addison had displayed a religious picture on the defense table, and jurors could see it as they walked by. He also had a Bible to consult during the trial. The DA complained that while she was questioning a witness, Addison turned his back to the witness and “very flamboyantly read his Bible.” The trial court seized his Bible. The court of appeals refused to consider whether this deprived Addison of his right to religious freedom because his argument was undeveloped. However, it affirmed the trial court’s seizure on statutory grounds–§906.10 says that evidence of religious beliefs is inadmissible for showing witnesses credibility. Also, Addison’s religiousness did not qualify as a “pertinent trait of the accused’s character” under §904.04(1)(a). Opinion, ¶60.

We aren’t sure whether Wisconsin has ever addressed the poin,t but did you know that some courts allow juries to consult the Bible during their deliberations? Yep. See Miller et al., Bibles in the Jury Room: Psychological Theories Question Judicial Assumptions, 39 Ohio N.U. L. Rev. 579 (2012-2013).

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