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Sturdivant v. State

Court of Appeals of Indiana

September 28, 2016

Susan E. Sturdivant, Appellant-Defendant,
State of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff.

         Appeal from the Carroll Superior Court, The Honorable Kurtis Fouts, Judge, Trial Court Cause No. 08D01-1408-F6-19

          Attorney for Appellant Steven Knecht Vonderheide & Knecht, P.C. Lafayette, Indiana.

          Attorneys for Appellee Gregory F. Zoeller Attorney General of Indiana Angela N. Sanchez Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana.


         Case Summary

         [¶1] Charged with possession of methamphetamine and other offenses, Susan Sturdivant told the trial court-at multiple pretrial hearings over the course of fourteen months-that she wanted to waive her right to counsel and represent herself. The court allowed her to do so, and a jury convicted her on all charges. Now represented by an attorney, Sturdivant claims that she is mentally ill and that the trial court should have denied her request for self-representation under Indiana v. Edwards, 554 U.S. 164 (2008), which recognized the authority of trial courts to insist upon representation by counsel for those defendants who "suffer from severe mental illness to the point where they are not competent to conduct trial proceedings by themselves." Because the trial court was in the best position to judge Sturdivant's competency and there is no evidence that Sturdivant was suffering from "severe mental illness, " we affirm the trial court's decision to allow her to conduct her own defense.

         Facts and Procedural Background

         [¶2] Early one morning in August 2014, a Delphi police officer stopped Sturdivant's pickup after Sturdivant twice failed to use a turn signal. Other officers arrived at the scene, and Sturdivant's behavior-"yelling and screaming, " "talking extremely fast, " "licking her lips constantly, " "fidgeting a lot, " 10/27/15 Tr. p. 27-30-led to a dog sniff of her pickup. The dog alerted to the presence of drugs, and the officers found marijuana and a clear baggie containing a white powdery substance that tested positive for methamphetamine. An officer then obtained a warrant to test Sturdivant's blood, which revealed the presence of methamphetamine. Sturdivant was charged with possession of methamphetamine, possession of marijuana, operating while intoxicated, and operating with a controlled substance in her body.

         [¶3] At the initial hearing on August 25, 2014, Sturdivant and the other defendants present were advised as follows with regard to the right to counsel:

Each of you have the right to be represented by an attorney in all stages of the proceedings including trial and appeal. If you intend to employ an attorney, you should do so within twenty days of this initial hearing if you are charged with a felony or within ten days if you are charged with a misdemeanor. The reason for that is [] that there are deadlines for raising defenses and filing motions and if those deadlines are missed then the legal issues and the defenses that you could have raised would be waived. If you don't have the money, means, or property to employ your own attorney, you have the right to have an attorney appointed for you at no expense to you. You are not required to have an attorney. You do have a constitutional right to represent yourself. But before you do that you should realize that you may conduct a defense as to your own detriment. Meaning you could do yourself more harm than good. You won't uh receive any special favors or indulgences from the Court just because you don't have a lawyer. You'll have to abide by the same standards as a lawyer as to the law and procedure. And the State will be represented by an experienced professional legal counsel. And at today's hearing that is Mr. Bean seated to my left and your right today. Uh an attorney's experience, knowledge of the law, possible defenses, and technical rules or procedures and evidence would be valuable in evaluating, negotiating, preparing, and presenting your case.

8/25/14 Tr. p. 4-5. Later, as the court discussed Sturdivant's specific charges and potential penalties with her, Sturdivant said, "The Constitution of the citizens rights state a person cannot pass or bridge any law to violate a person's constitutional right. It's wrote on eight and a half by eleven, a legal documentation, it's eight and a half by fourteen, to the clerk . . . ." Id. at 12. Nonetheless, Sturdivant eventually stated that she understood the charges against her. The court then asked, "[D]id you want to be represented by a lawyer?" Id. at 18. Sturdivant responded, "No I do not." Id.

         [¶4] At a pretrial conference held in October 2014, the trial court noted its concern with Sturdivant's self-representation:

Court: Ms. Sturdivant are [you] still intending to uh represent yourself?
Sturdivant: Yes sir.
Court: Alright. I'm concern[ed] about that. But it's your right.
Sturdivant: It is my right.

10/8/14 Tr. p. 4. The court also addressed various discovery and scheduling ...

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