By Ray King
The Arkansas Court of Appeals on Wednesday rejected the appeal of a Jefferson County man convicted as an habitual offender of being a felon in possession of a firearm who contended that his decision to represent himself at trial was not made knowingly or intelligently.
On June 10, 2019, Darnell Washington was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm by a Jefferson County Circuit Court jury. He had previously been convicted of four or more felonies and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Washington had been arrested on July 23, 2017 and after formal charges were filed, the circuit court appointed the Public Defender’s Office to represent him. Later, Washington told the court he wanted to act as his own attorney.
About a month later, he repeated that request and while the court acknowledged the request, did not relieve the public defender’s office. Instead, the court ask Washington to consider his decision and questioned Washington about his ability to represent himself. Specifically, the court asked Washington about his education, experience with the criminal justice system and knowledge of court procedures including making objections at trial.
Washington also filed two different waiver-of-counsel forms and a second affidavit repeating his desire to represent himself. The court allowed Washington to act as his own attorney but had an attorney from the Public Defender’s Office on hand as a stand-by counsel in the event Washington changed his mind.
Writing for the Court of Appeals, Judge Raymond Abramson said the preponderance of the evidence shows that the trial court was correct when it determined that Washington “knowingly and intelligently waived his right to counsel.”
Washington also alleged in the appeal that his lack of legal knowledge and poor performance at trial invalidates his waiver of counsel but the appeals court disagreed.
“… Washington knew what he was doing and made the choice to waive his right to counsel with his eyes open,” Abramson said in the ruling.
Washington will be eligible to apply for parole on June 19, 2023.