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State proved defendant made valid waiver of right to counsel in prior OWI case

State v. Casey D. Schwandt, 2013AP2775-CR, District 2, 4/23/14 (one judge; ineligible for publication); case activity

Schwandt’s knowledge about both the role attorneys play and their specialized training showed he made a valid waiver of counsel in a prior OWI case, despite his claim he was unaware of what an attorney could do for him in the particular case in which he waived counsel.

Schwandt, charged with 3rd offense OWI, collaterally attacked one of his prior convictions. The court denied his motion without a hearing, but the court of appeals held his motion stated a prima facie case and remanded the case for a hearing. At the hearing Schwandt said he was unaware at the time of his plea of what an attorney would have been able to do for him in his particular case, though he acknowledged that at the time of his plea he was familiar with the role of attorneys, knew lawyers “had specialized training in the law” and “can appear in court on behalf of people who are appearing in court,” and would have sought counsel had his case been more serious. (¶¶7-8).

Saying this case closely resembles State v. Gracia, 2013 WI 15, 345 Wis. 2d 488, 826 N.W.2d 87, the court of appeals concludes Schwandt made a knowing waiver of counsel. Citing the prior unpublished opinion in this case, Gracia held that all the law requires is that “the defendant ‘understand the role counsel could play in the proceeding,’ not that the defendant must understand every possible defense.” Id., ¶36. That standard was met here:

12      While Schwandt, in fact, may not have known all the different ways in which an attorney might have been able to assist him with his particular case in 1997, we conclude based on his own undisputed testimony and the findings of the circuit court that at the time of his waiver and plea, Schwandt, like Gracia, “knew what he was giving up.” Id., ¶37. Based on his own testimony, Schwandt was twenty-one years old, had graduated from high school, and was gainfully employed at the time of his 1997 plea. No educational deficiencies have been suggested. He understood attorneys had specialized training in the law, appeared in court on behalf of persons, and could assist persons with criminal cases. Indeed, he acknowledged that he would have sought an attorney, rather than represent himself, if it was a more serious case. Schwandt had the requisite “familiarity with the role of lawyers.” See id., ¶4.  

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