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Burchill v. Clerk of District Court, Madison County

United States District Court, D. Montana, Butte Division

August 31, 2017

DUANE ANGELO BURCHILL, Plaintiff,
v.
CLERK OF DISTRICT COURT, MADISON COUNTY, Defendant.

          ORDER, and FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION

          Jeremiah C. Lynch United States Magistrate Judge

          I. Introduction

         Presently before the Court is Plaintiff Duane Angelo Burchill's motion requesting leave to prosecute this action in forma pauperis under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). Because Burchill has made the requisite showing, his motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis is properly granted. IT IS SO ORDERED.

         At this juncture, the Court is obligated to examine Burchill's complaint to determine whether the Court should exercise jurisdiction over the subject matter of Burchill's claim.

         II. Background

         Burchill, appearing pro se, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 seeking monetary compensation from the Defendant Karen J. Miller, Clerk of the Montana Fifth Judicial District Court, Madison County.[1] Burchill alleges, in essence, that Miller deprived him of his constitutional right to conduct his own defense in criminal proceedings against him. Specifically, Burchill states that Clerk Miller (or presumably her deputy) refused to file certain motions in the criminal proceedings presented by Burchill pro se. Burchill acknowledges Clerk Miller advised him that he had a court-appointed attorney assigned to represent him, and could not file motions on his own behalf unless he signed a waiver of counsel - which he apparently did not do. At bottom, Burchill contends Clerk Miller violated his right to self representation by not unconditionally allowing him to file his motions pro se.

         III. Analysis

         The Younger abstention doctrine - named after the case of Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971) - generally prohibits federal courts from granting relief in a federal suit that would interfere with pending state criminal proceedings. Younger abstention “contemplates the outright dismissal of the federal suit, and the presentation of all claims, both state and federal, to the state courts.” Gibson v. Berryhill, 411 U.S. 564, 577 (1973). Because Burchill's suit would directly interfere with the ongoing state criminal proceeding, this Court must decline to exercise jurisdiction.[2]

         The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees a criminal defendant the “right to a fair and reliable trial.” United States v. Erskine, 355 F.3d 1161, 1167 (9th Cir. 2004). The Sixth Amendment, in turn, “guarantees a defendant a right to counsel but also allows him to waive this right and to represent himself without counsel.” Id. (emphasis in original) (citing Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806, 820 (1975)). To alleviate the tension that exists between the paramount objective of a fair trial and a defendant's right to conduct his own defense, a trial court is cast in the primary role of insuring that a so-called Faretta waiver is knowing and intelligent. Erskine, 355 F.3d at 1167.

         The fact the state district court has implemented a policy that precludes a defendant represented by court-appointed counsel from filing motions pro se does not constitute a per se violation of the right to self-representation as contended by Burchill. Rather, a fair assessment of the policy leads to the conclusion that it is designed to insure the presiding trial judge undertakes to satisfy the “fundamental obligation” imposed upon him by Faretta. See United States v. Hernandez, 203 F.3d 614, 625 n.16 (9th Cir. 2000), overruled on other grounds by Indiana v. Edwards, 554 U.S. 164 (2008).

         It is important to note the record in Burchill's state criminal case reflects the trial court ultimately granted Burchill's request to conduct his own defense.

         IV. Conclusion

         For the reasons discussed, IT IS RECOMMENDED that this action be dismissed in accordance with the directive of Younger v. Harris. IT IS FURTHER RECOMMENDED 1. The Clerk of Court should be directed to close this matter and enter judgment pursuant to Rule 58 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

         2. The Clerk of Court should be directed to have the docket reflect that the Court certifies pursuant to Rule 24(a)(3)(A) of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure that any appeal of this decision would not be taken in good faith. The record makes plain the Court should abstain ...


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