October 16, 2013 South Carolina Supreme Court published opinion

State v Barnes

Barnes moved to represent himself at his murder trial. The trial court applied a heightened standard of competency and ruled Barnes was not competent to waive counsel. Barnes was convicted and sentenced to death. The Court, 3-2, reversed. The majority rejected the heightened competency standard noting that competence to stand trial is sufficient to allow a guilty plea, waiver of jury trail and other constitutionally protected rights. Thus, a new trial was necessary as failure to grant a proper request to self-represent is structural error mandating reversal. The majority also held that Barnes waived any speedy trial arguments and could not obtain relief on that ground. The dissent argued that South Carolina should adopt the heightened standard so as to provide capital defendants with a fair trial given the need for heightened reliability in the outcomes of these cases. The dissent would have affirmed the denial of the self-representation motion. The dissent also argued that the trial court properly considered expert testimony on Barnes’ competence over Barnes’ objection as Barnes minimized his mental health issues. The dissent argued that Barnes was barred from raising his voir dire issues and in any event the limitations placed on his attorney were proper as hypotheticals are inappropriate in voir dire. The dissent argued the disqualification of a juror was proper as the juror gave equivocal testimony as to whether she could impose a death sentence. The dissent finally argued that Barnes failed to provide any evidence of prejudice from the delays in bringing him to trial and thus would have rejected his speedy trial argument.

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