State v. Smith, COA23-575, ___ N.C. App. ___ (Mar. 5, 2024)

In this Stanly County case, defendant appealed the trial court’s ruling that he forfeited his right to counsel. The Court of Appeals found no error. 

Defendant pleaded guilty to first degree kidnapping, second degree rape, and second degree burglary in December of 2017. However, due to a sentencing error, defendant was brought back before the trial court in July 2020, and there he requested to set aside his guilty plea. At the same time, defendant’s first attorney requested to withdraw. This began a series of six appointed attorneys that represented defendant from July 2020 to July 2022. During this time, defendant was also disruptive to the proceedings, and at one point was held in contempt by the trial court. Eventually, due to defendant’s disruptions and dispute with his sixth appointed attorney, the trial court ruled that defendant had forfeited his right to court-appointed counsel. Defendant appealed.

The Court of Appeals explained that the trial court was correct in finding that defendant forfeited his right to counsel, pointing to defendant’s “insistence that his attorneys pursue defenses that were barred by ethical rules and his refusal to cooperate when they would not comply with his requests[,]” along with defendant’s conduct that “was combative and interruptive during the majority of his appearances in court.” Slip Op. at 10. These behaviors caused significant delay in the proceedings, and justified forfeiture of counsel.