United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit
October 1, 2018
from the United States District Court for the District of
Columbia (No. 1:16-cr-00073-1)
M. Stewart, appointed by the court, argued the cause and
filed the brief for appellant.
L. Graves, Assistant U.S. Attorney, argued the cause for
appellee. With him on the brief were Jessie K. Liu, U.S.
Attorney, and Elizabeth Trosman, Suzanne Grealy Curt, and
Stephen J. Gripkey, Assistant U.S. Attorneys.
Before: Griffith and Pillard, Circuit Judges, and Sentelle,
Senior Circuit Judge.
GRIFFITH, CIRCUIT JUDGE
with his first two court-appointed attorneys, appellant
Tyrone Wright chose to proceed pro se. He made this choice in
the face of repeated warnings by the trial judge about the
hazards of representing himself in a criminal matter. On
appeal, Wright argues that the court erred in denying his
request for a third attorney and allowing him to represent
himself. We find no error and affirm his jury conviction.
was indicted for three counts of bank robbery in violation of
18 U.S.C. § 2113(a). The court appointed David Bos of
the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the District of
Columbia to represent him. During Bos's first appearance,
the court granted a motion by the defense for a 45-day
continuance to review discovery and obtain additional
information. Bos told the court that Wright, who was not
present at the hearing, agreed to the continuance, but when
Wright appeared at the next status hearing, he claimed that
Bos had not "consulted" him, and that he had not
approved this delay. J.A. 22, 25. Declaring to the court that
he was "not comfortable with" Bos, Wright asked for
either "a new attorney" or permission to proceed
pro se. J.A. 22-25.
court cautioned Wright, "[I]t is a terribly bad idea to
go pro se," J.A. 40, and explained that Wright would
have more control over trial strategy if he hired paid
counsel. When his attempts to hire private counsel failed,
the court appointed Peter Cooper as a temporary replacement
for Bos to allow Wright time to think about whether he wanted
Cooper to represent him going forward. Wright was initially
resistant to the idea but eventually agreed that Cooper could
represent him and consented to a six-week delay of the
impending trial date to allow time to prepare.
worked together, Cooper grew concerned that Wright might not
be competent to stand trial. With Wright's permission,
Cooper asked the court to order a competency screening. The
court agreed, and Wright was found competent. Still
skeptical, and once again with Wright's consent, Cooper
asked the court to order a second, more exhaustive
examination. The court did so, and the Bureau of Prisons
conducted the examination at the Federal Medical Center in
Kentucky. The process took about a month longer than the
parties and the court expected but confirmed Wright's
competence once again. Based on the two screenings, the
district court found Wright competent to stand trial.
added delay was the final straw for Wright, and over the
course of the next month he raised various complaints about
Cooper. He questioned Cooper's defense strategy and
tactical decisions, and even accused him of working with the
prosecution. Wright claimed that Cooper had failed to share
critical evidence with him and had agreed to an
overly-restrictive protective order that barred him from
possessing certain materials while in jail. He accused Cooper
of requesting the first competency screening without
consulting him, and only asking for the second one because
Wright had refused to enter a plea agreement that Cooper had
urged him to accept.
told the court that he was uncomfortable with Cooper and did
not trust him. He claimed that Cooper had yelled and cursed
at him and otherwise failed to adequately communicate with
him. According to Wright, Cooper had offended him by asking
if he was dissatisfied with his court-appointed lawyers
because they were of a different race. Cooper acknowledged
that they were having trouble working together but laid the
blame at Wright's feet. As Cooper put it, "I will do
whatever the [c]ourt asks me to do, but at this time I see
myself as not being in a position to prepare a competent
defense for Mr. Wright" because of his "refusal to
work with me." Suppl. App. 12-13.
district court agreed and explained that Wright's
complaints about Cooper were either unfounded or the result
of his refusal to cooperate with Cooper. Most of Wright's
complaints involved disagreements over strategy, and the
court made clear to Wright that he was not "entitled to
make . . . every single trial strategy decision." J.A.
201. The protective order about which Wright complained was
"routine" and permissible, J.A. 197, and the record
clearly established that Wright had agreed to both competency
screenings. The court credited Cooper's explanation that
he had tried to share evidence with Wright, but Wright had
cut off those meetings. The court found baseless Wright's
suggestion that Cooper was somehow working with the
prosecution or had any conflict of interest. As to
Cooper's question about racial bias, ...