State v. Curlee, ___ N.C. App. ___, 795 S.E.2d 266 (Dec. 20, 2016)

The trial court erred by requiring the defendant to proceed to trial pro se. On February 7, 2013, the defendant was determined to be indigent and counsel was appointed. On May 30, 2014, the defendant waived his right to assigned counsel, indicating that he wished to hire a private lawyer, Mr. Parker. Between May 2014 and May 2015 the trial was continued several times to enable the defendant to obtain funds to pay Parker. On May 11, 2015, Parker informed the court that the defendant had not retained him and that if the court would not agree to continue the case, Parker would move to withdraw. Although the defendant was employed when he first indicated his desire to hire Parker, he subsequently lost his job and needed time to obtain funds to pay counsel. The trial court continued the case for two months, to give the defendant more time to obtain funds to pay Parker. On June 29, 2015, Parker filed a motion to withdraw for failure to pay. On July 6, 2015, after the trial court allowed Parker to withdraw, the defendant asked for new counsel. The trial court declined this request, the case proceeded pro se, and the defendant was convicted. The court found that the trial court’s ruling requiring the defendant to proceed pro se was based in part on the ADA’s false representation that at the May 11, 2015 hearing the defendant was asked if he wanted counsel appointed, was warned that the case would be tried in July regardless of whether he were able to hire Parker, and was explicitly warned that if he had not retained counsel by July he would be forced to proceed to trial pro se. The court concluded: “None of these representations are accurate.” Thus, the court held that the trial court’s denial of defendant’s request for appointed counsel and its ruling that the defendant had waived the right to appointed counsel were not supported by competent evidence.