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State v. Baker

Supreme Court of North Dakota

June 30, 2016

State of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee
v.
Justin Edward Baker, Defendant and Appellant

         Appeal from the District Court of Grand Forks County, Northeast Central Judicial District, the Honorable Donald Hager, Judge.

          Carmell F. Mattison (argued) and Megha Kholwadwala (on brief), third-year law student, under the Rule on Limited Practice of Law by Law Students, for plaintiff and appellee.

          Benjamin C. Pulkrabek, for defendant and appellant.

          OPINION

          Sandstrom, Justice.

         [¶ 1] Justin Baker appeals from the criminal judgment entered after a jury found him guilty of escape. He argues he was denied his Sixth Amendment right to counsel when the district court allowed his appointed counsel to withdraw from the case. We conclude the record does not establish Baker knowingly and intelligently waived his right to counsel, and we reverse and remand for a new trial.

         I

         [¶ 2] While Baker was serving jail time at the Grand Forks County Correctional Center, he was granted temporary leave. He failed to return, and was charged with escape, a class C felony. Baker was granted appointed counsel, and they reached a plea agreement with the State. After reaching the plea agreement, Baker spoke with his family and decided he would rather go forward with a trial.

         [¶ 3] At the change of plea hearing, Baker's attorney informed the district court that Baker would not accept the plea agreement and would like to proceed to trial with a new attorney. Because of the assurances he had made to the State's attorney and the court, and to avoid future ethical issues or complaints, the attorney stated he wished to withdraw from the case. When asked by the court whether he had talked to another attorney for private hire, Baker stated his father was trying to get ahold of a contact of his but had been unable to reach him. The court informed Baker it was inclined to approve his attorney's motion to withdraw, if filed, and also informed Baker he would be allowed to obtain private counsel if he desired. The court stated, however, that a new attorney would not be appointed, because his current appointed counsel was capable of representing him and proceeding to trial.

         [¶ 4] After the hearing, Baker's appointed counsel moved to withdraw from the case, and the district court granted the motion. At trial, Baker represented himself. The jury found him guilty of escape.

         [¶ 5] The district court had jurisdiction under N.D. Const. art. VI, § 8, and N.D.C.C. § 29-32.1-03. Baker's appeal is timely under N.D.R.App.P. 4(b). This Court has jurisdiction under N.D. Const. art. VI, §§ 2 and 6, and N.D.C.C. § 29-32.1-14.

         II

         [¶ 6] On appeal, Baker argues he was denied his Sixth Amendment right to counsel when the district court allowed his appointed attorney to withdraw from the case without appointing another attorney to represent him.

         [¶ 7] Both the North Dakota Constitution and the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution mandate the right to counsel in criminal cases. See N.D. Const. art. I, ยง 12 ("In criminal prosecutions in any court whatever, the party accused shall have the right to... appear and defend in person and with counsel."); U.S. Const. amend. VI ("In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to... have the assistance of counsel for his defense."). "The right to appointed ...


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