The South Carolina Supreme Court issued one opinion this morning: City of Columbia v. Marie-Therese Assa’ad-Faltas. In it, the Court affirmed the conviction and sentence for simple assault of Assa’ad-Faltas, denying her argument that her right to self-representation was violated and that consequently, she was entitled to a new trial.
According to the Court, Assa’ad-Faltas has been a constant and vexatious litigant in the South Carolina court system for over 20 years. As a consequence of her “…pattern of vexatious and disruptive conduct aimed at courts throughout South Carolina and beyond” the South Carolina Supreme Court issued several orders, beginning in 2009 that prohibited Assa’ad-Faltas from filing anything in the South Carolina Supreme Court unless it was “…signed and filed by an attorney.” This order was expanded in 2011 to “...preclude [Assa’ad-Faltas] from filing anything in any court of this state in a pro se capacity based on [Assa’ad-Faltas’] persistent disregard for and abuse of the judicial process.” In 2012, then Chief Justice Jean Toal expanded the order, prohibiting Assa’ad-Faltas from contacting “…any judge, justice, law clerk, clerk of the court or any other officer or employee of the Judicial System by telephone, e-mail or any other form of electronic communication.”
Into this mixture came Assa’ad-Faltas’ arrest for simple assault of her landlord. The case was tried in municipal court in 2013 after the various orders were in effect. At this time, Assa’ad-Faltas was represented by counsel with whom she disagreed and argued with while in court. Ms. Assa’ad-Faltas advised the municipal court, at one of her hearings, that “I just want to put it on the record. The other thing is that I do not recognize Mr. Lupton as my Lawyer. I do not want him, I do not trust him.” In spite of this, the South Carolina Supreme Court noted that neither Assa’ad-Faltas nor her counsel filed a motion to relieve counsel nor requested that the court conduct a Faretta inquiry to rule on Assa’ad-Faltas’ right to self-representation. A circuit court appeal followed which affirmed the muncipal’s court’s sentence.
Ms. Assa’ad-Faltas appealed, arguing that she was entitled to a new trial as she contended that she had “...unequivocally invoked the right to self-representation before the municipal court [which] …committed an error of law in failing to conduct a Faretta hearing regarding her request to proceed pro se.”
The South Carolina Supreme Court noted that the issue before the court was whether Assa’ad-Faltas’ Six Amendment right to self-representation, per Faretta, had been violated, thus entitling her to a new trial. The Court held that “…the right to defend pro se in a criminal trial is not absolute and may be forfeited if…[Appellant] is unable or unwilling to abide by the rules of procedure and courtroom protocol.” It also noted that “...the requirement that a request for self-representation be clear and unequivocal also prevents a defendant from taking advantage of and manipulating the mutual exclusivity of the rights to counsel and self-representation.”
After a lengthy review of the times and ways that Ms. Assa’ad-Faltas has abused the South Carolina judicial process, the Court concluded that Ms. Assa’ad-Faltas’ rights had not been violated and affirmed the conviction and sentence.