Defendant’s Self-Representation in Courtroom Concerns Oft-Interrupted Judge

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By Kelly Xiao Luo and Koda Slingluff

SACRAMENTO, CA – When a defendant this past Wednesday in Sacramento County Superior Court insisted on representing himself despite Judge Patrick Marlette’s warnings, he almost immediately began interrupting the judge and was warned several times his right to represent himself may be revoked.

The defendant, Jesse Rayburn, has a rap sheet reaching back over 20 years. His experience with and in the legal system led Rayburn to believe he was qualified to waive his right to an attorney and appear in propria persona (or pro per for short).

This week Rayburn is charged with a felony complaint of possession of ammunition or a firearm with a previous strike and driving on a suspended or revoked license with a maximum sentence of six years and 180 days.

Judge Marlette asked Rayburn if he was comfortable doing the court proceedings over Zoom. This is a standard question the judge must ask before proceeding. Rayburn answered by saying, “If it is lawful to do so, your honor.” When asked if he consented to using Zoom, he repeated his answer.

Immediately this struck a nerve with the judge, who said, “All right sir if you and I have a problem with you being difficult, what’s gonna happen is I’m not gonna allow you to represent yourself because it’s gonna disrupt the court, so I’m asking you if you consent to do this on Zoom.”

Rayburn replied, “I consent if it is lawful to do so.”

Rayburn went on to continually disrupt the courtroom, mumbling comments and repeatedly asking questions that Judge Marlette indicated he would not answer. Frustrated with the interruptions, Marlette advised Rayburn that it was in his best interest for them to speak one at a time.

“Mr. Rayburn, here’s another thing you need to understand. If you get convicted on this caper, and you want to appeal it, you’re gonna want a clean record for your appeal. And that means, that means you’re gonna want whatever you said to be on the record,” Judge Marlette said.

He explained, “Whenever I’m speaking, the court reporter records what I’m saying, even if I’m interrupting you. That’s because it’s my job to direct the court proceedings. So from the get-go you and I have to decide we’re gonna talk one at a time. And I’m not allowed to give any kind of advice to you.”

Judge Marlette was cut off by a mumble from Rayburn, which sounded like, “I asked.” At that point, Rayburn had already interrupted the judge’s sentence three times.

Defendant Rayburn’s behavior was not a first encounter in the Sacramento Superior Court.

Previously, on July 20, 2020, defendant Rayburn also had decided to represent himself during an arraignment with Judge Scott Tedmon, noting, “I feel that I can represent myself better than anybody else can.”

Similarly, Rayburn also stated during his hearing today with Judge Marlette he cannot accept as his attorney an officer, who has the court’s interests rather than his, to represent him. And that’s why he has decided to represent himself on his case.

Both times, Judge Tedmon and Judge Marlette advised Rayburn that it would be wiser to have a lawyer represent him due to Rayburn’s lack of knowledge and experience with the legal procedures. But Rayburn is convinced that he can defend himself well.

Although Rayburn was determined to represent himself in court, his determination became an annoyance to the judge, who was constantly interrupted by Rayburn’s comments. Rayburn’s disruptive behavior was not the first occurrence.

Back in August 19, 2020, during Rayburn’s pro per hearing with DDA Filippini, Rayburn continuously attempted to interrupt Filippini’s accusations and statements of Rayburn’s charges by trying to refute each of Filippini’s claims against him.

As mentioned previously, he displayed similar behaviors of interjection during his current hearing with Judge Marlette, where he asked multiple times for a “legal intent or legal ruling procedure” for his case.

Rayburn actually mentioned his previous experiences in court, saying, “I was already in trial, your honor. When I went into trial they actually dismissed this case and opened up a probation on that date I was set to start trial. And so I was coming here today to set trial date and get it, uh, because my father actually died on the day the court was to take place so it was, you know, it was…”

Judge Marlette cut him off, “OK, all right. Those are not things I need to know.” Though Marlette’s response seemed harsh, it came after numerous disruptions and was wholly unrelated to the court proceedings at the moment.

Judge Marlette asked Deputy District Attorney Celeena Wall for the defendant’s criminal history. Wall read back a long list beginning back in the year 2000, ranging from resisting arrest and possessing a firearm illegally to stealing a car.

Marlette noted that a doctor was previously appointed to decide if Rayburn was competent enough to represent himself. He took a moment to read over the doctor’s report, during which time Rayburn asked a total of six questions.

Judge Marlette replied, “Let me finish this, sir” and Rayburn spoke to himself, saying “I feel a little weird” to the quiet room.

Judge Marlette said for the record that the report observed that Rayburn had admitted “he was making statements about various aspects of the proceeding being unconstitutional. And with further discussion of the assessment acknowledged that his presentations, behaviors, and speech were probably wholly inappropriate. In evidence he was clearly aware of various aspects of criminal proceedings, had no difficulty applying this information.”

As he spoke, Rayburn said, “It seems—it’s unfair.”

“Mr. Rayburn I’m saying it appears to me that you’re an intelligent man, which does surprise me when you’re making this decision,” Marlette replied, “ but also that if you get frustrated, that you’re gonna be disruptive, and I’m hoping you understand that the first time that happens I’m gonna, if I give you this privilege, the first time this happens, I’m gonna revoke it and appoint an attorney to represent you.”

Rayburn responded, “I’ll try to check my emotions at the door.”

In all, Rayburn seemed well-intentioned and aware of what was happening around him despite his interruptions. Judge Marlette’s decision to let him represent himself, with the caveat that disrupting the court would lead to an attorney being appointed, reflected that Rayburn was competent—if not a little distracting.

Judge Marlette decided to set the next court date several weeks in the future, giving Rayburn time to speak with a probation officer and get the next steps in motion for his defense.

“That gives you enough time to contact the panel, find out what it is they can do for you, make whatever motions it is you want to make in this case, and if you want to settle the case we can settle it. You can offer the district attorney what you’re willing to admit to, they can tell you what they’re willing to dismiss, and if we don’t settle it then we can set it for preliminary hearing,” Marlette explained.

Jesse Rayburn will return to the same courtroom May 18. Before leaving, he thanked the court wholeheartedly and wished everyone a happy Cinco de Mayo.

Koda is a junior at UC Berkeley, majoring in Philosophy and minoring in Rhetoric. He is from Ventura, CA.

 


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