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Eugene Kenneth Jones v. Jeff Norman

February 14, 2011


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Beam, Circuit Judge.

Submitted: December 15, 2010

Before RILEY, Chief Judge, BEAM and BENTON, Circuit Judges.

The State of Missouri ("the State") appeals the district court's*fn2 grant of the writ of habeas corpus to Eugene Kenneth Jones--an inmate serving a thirty-year sentence in prison following his conviction in Missouri state court. In its order granting habeas relief, the district court found that the Missouri court that presided over Jones' trial violated clearly established Supreme Court law by denying Jones' request to represent himself. The State argues that habeas relief is inappropriate because Jones procedurally defaulted his self-representation claim and, alternatively, that the claim fails on the merits because Jones did not knowingly and voluntarily waive his right to counsel. We affirm.


On May 24, 2001, St. Louis Police Department officers pulled Jones over and arrested him based on probable cause that he committed an armed robbery that had occurred minutes earlier in a gas-station parking lot. On July 3, 2001, Jones was charged in Missouri state court with first-degree robbery, armed criminal action, and unlawful use of a weapon. On August 16, 2001, Jones filed a Faretta motion, seeking to exercise his Sixth Amendment right to represent himself at trial. See Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806 (1975). On September 5, 2001, the trial court held a hearing on Jones' motion. At the hearing, the court informed Jones that it would be considering his "base level of competency" to represent himself and whether his request to do so was "knowing and voluntary."

The trial court began the hearing by asking Jones a series of questions about his background, education, and experience with the legal system. The court then asked Jones if he had any physical or mental impairments. Jones stated that his right arm was numb because of a stab wound he suffered in jail and that he had been making weekly visits to the jail psychologist for a couple months. When asked whether his arm would impact his ability to take notes, Jones said that he was able to write but that the numbness would likely slow him down. When asked for details about his mental health treatment, Jones told the court that he had never been diagnosed with any mental disease or defect and that he had never visited a psychiatrist or psychologist prior to his incarceration. No additional evidence on Jones' mental state was presented.

During the hearing, Jones stated that he understood the potential consequences of representing himself and that his request to do so was totally voluntary. The trial court then asked Jones questions about his knowledge of the upcoming proceedings. Jones said that he understood the charges against him and he was able to identify all three counts he faced. The court asked whether Jones knew the possible penalties associated with those charges. Jones correctly stated the penalty range for count one, but misstated the minimum penalty for count two, and admitted he did not know the penalty range for count three. The court then asked Jones to identify the consequences of his being charged as a prior and persistent offender. He was able to identify only one specific consequence. When asked about additional consequences, Jones responded that he was generally aware that the designation had other negative consequences but that he did not know the details. The trial court also asked Jones about his familiarity with the Missouri Rules of Criminal Procedure. Jones stated he was aware the rules existed and that he would have to comply with the rules, but that he was not currently familiar with their substance.

When asked why he wished to represent himself, Jones told the court that he had bad experiences with appointed lawyers in previous cases and that he was dissatisfied with the efforts of his current lawyer, Michael Meyers. Jones stated that, although Meyers did seem to care about Jones' case, Jones himself cared more and therefore would put forth more effort to "seek out what's best" for himself.

On September 7, 2001, the trial court issued an order denying Jones' motion to proceed pro se, reasoning that Jones' waiver was not "knowing and intelligent" because: (1) Jones had "never even familiarized himself with the applicable rules of procedure;" (2) he had "only an 11th grade education;" (3) he had a "reduced physical ability to take trial notes" and; (4) he did not know the relevant ranges of punishment for two of the three charges against him. The order stated that, if Jones had understood the potential consequences of his request to represent himself, "he had notice of and time to prepare for the above hearing."

On January 20, 2003, Jones filed a motion for new counsel and renewed his request to proceed pro se. The court denied his motion for new counsel. The court never ruled on his renewed request to proceed pro se. After a jury trial, Jones was convicted on all counts and sentenced as a prior and persistent offender to thirty years in prison.

Jones' lawyer filed a motion for new trial, but did not include an objection to the court's denial of Jones' Faretta motion. After Jones' motion for new trial was denied, he appealed to the Missouri Court of Appeals. His sole argument on direct appeal was that the trial court erred by denying his request to proceed pro se. After reviewing the factors the trial court had considered, the Missouri Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court had committed "no error plain or otherwise" and denied Jones' appeal.

Jones was incarcerated at the Southeast Correctional Center in Charleston, Missouri. On May 11, 2006, Jones filed a petition for the writ of habeas corpus in federal district court, alleging, inter alia, that the state trial court erred by denying petitioner's motion and request to proceed pro se without counsel. On June 7, 2006, the State was ordered to show cause why relief should not be granted. In response, the State argued that Jones' Faretta claim was procedurally barred because he did not raise it in his motion for new trial and that, alternatively, the claim failed on the merits. On November 8, 2006, Jones filed an amended petition for habeas relief. This petition replaced, in total, his original petition and raised eighteen counts, including his Faretta claim, which became count fifteen. The district court referred Jones' amended petition to the magistrate judge, who issued an order that required the State to file a new response to Jones' amended petition and specifically instructed the state to readdress "the merits . . . in addition to any procedural default issues which may be relevant." (emphasis in original). The State filed a response, arguing that counts one through fourteen were procedurally defaulted but explicitly arguing that the court should consider and reject the merits of Jones' Faretta claim under the deferential standard of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA).

On August 25, 2009, the magistrate judge recommended that Jones' petition be denied in its entirety, finding that the majority of Jones' claims had been procedurally defaulted and that the rest, including Jones' Faretta claim, failed on the merits. Jones filed a motion requesting de novo review of the magistrate judge's recommendations. The district court affirmed the magistrate judge on all grounds, except it reversed and granted habeas relief on Jones' Faretta claim. The court ordered the State to either release Jones or give him a new trial within ninety days. After the district court issued this order, the State filed a motion pursuant to Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, asking the district court to amend its judgment because Jones' Faretta claim was procedurally defaulted and, therefore, should only have been reviewed for plain error. The ...

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