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Washington v. Boughton

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

March 8, 2018

Rodney Washington, Petitioner-Appellant,
Gary A. Boughton, Warden, Wisconsin Secure Program Facility, Respondent-Appellee.

          Argued January 10, 2018

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin No. 3:14-cv-00208-wmc - William M. Conley, Judge.

          Before Wood, Chief Judge, Hamilton, Circuit Judge, and Bucklo, District Judge. [*]


         A Wisconsin jury convicted Rodney Washington of multiple counts of first-degree sexual assault with the use of a dangerous weapon and other crimes. Washington appealed his conviction, arguing that the criminal complaint that triggered his prosecution was legally insufficient under Wisconsin law; that his trial attorney was ineffective for failing to seek dismissal of the complaint on that ground; and that the trial court deprived him of his constitutional right to self-representation. After exhausting these claims in state court, Washington sought federal habeas corpus relief. The district court denied his petition.

         For the reasons explained below, we conclude that neither Washington's due process challenge to the state appellate courts' treatment of his claim based on the sufficiency of his charging documents nor his ineffective assistance of counsel claim entitles him to habeas relief. We are convinced, however, that the state courts' denial of his request to proceed pro se cannot be squared with Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806 (1975). Accordingly, we reverse.


         On March 16, 2000, the State of Wisconsin filed a "John Doe" criminal complaint charging an unknown individual with sexually assaulting five women between March 27, 1994 and January 14, 1995. Although the defendant's identity was unknown, the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory had obtained evidence of his genetic code from semen samples taken from the victims' bodies and clothing. By comparing the DNA profiles developed from those samples, the State Crime Lab determined that the same individual was responsible for all five of the assaults. Indeed, the criminal complaint stated that the DNA profiles developed from the five semen samples "match[ed]" at all of the genetic locations for which DNA profiles had been developed. Accordingly, the complaint identified the defendant with reference to those genetic locations, describing him as "Doe, John #5, Unknown Male with Matching Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) Profile at Genetic Locations D1S7, D2S44, D4S139, D5S110, D10S28, and D17S79." An arrest warrant describing John Doe #5 in the same manner was issued the same day.

         On June 25, 2007, a databank unit leader at the State Crime Lab matched Washington's DNA to the DNA from the semen obtained from the five sexual assault victims. Shortly thereafter, the state amended its complaint, naming Washington as the defendant and describing his specific DNA profile as a series of numbers (known as "alleles") at several genetic locations.[1]

         Washington was appointed counsel. During pre-trial proceedings, Washington expressed dissatisfaction with his counsel's performance and told the court that he wanted to represent himself. Four months before trial, he filed a written submission stating that unless his lawyer moved to dismiss the case prior to a hearing scheduled for February 14, 2008, he would seek to proceed pro se. True to his word, Washington told the court at that hearing, "I just want to go pro se in this case and defend myself." Although he withdrew his request the same day after conferring with his counsel, he revived it on the morning of April 28, 2008-the day his trial was scheduled to begin-insisting, "I'm going pro se in this case, Your Honor."

         The court confirmed that Washington wished to represent himself, prompting the following colloquy:

The Court: Okay. But you understand that by doing so you would have to comply with any and all the rules of the court and rules of evidence and case law, do you understand that?
Defendant: I have no problem with that.
The Court: Well, do you know the rules of evidence, sir?
Defendant: Do I what?
The Court: Know the rules of evidence?
Defendant: When they are brought to my attention, I will know.
The Court: So that would certainly help to have a lawyer help you do that.
Defendant: It won't be this one.
The Court: Well, here is the problem with proceeding pro [se] like you want to, and you have a right to do that unless the court doesn't feel that you're competent to do that and the court doesn't believe that you're competent to do that and I'll tell you why, because of the DNA. The DNA that's involved in this case which is scientific and very few people outside the legal profession and scientists know how that works. And in order to develop and cross-examine those witnesses, you have to have some knowledge in doing that. Even if you knew some of the rules of evidence and were capable in other ways in order to represent yourself, ...

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