The Curious Case of Raymond Oscar Butler by Mark Stevens 603-893-0074

Hello everyone. This post, as well as a search and seizure case post to be published later today, does not involve a New Hampshire DWI case. It does, though, involve an interesting Sixth Amendment right addressed by the California Supreme Court in which it reversed a death penalty conviction a couple of days ago. The case is People of California v. Raymond Oscar Butler, decided December 10, 2009. Note the date of the opinion if you search for more information on it because it is not Mr. Butler's only death penalty conviction and it is not even his only death penalty case.

The case involves the application of Faretta v, California and the right of a person accused of a crime to act as one's own lawyer. Faretta set the standard for the criminally accused to act pro se (in California this is called pro per), as their own counsel. In 2008 though, the U.S. Supreme Court had decided in Indiana v. Edwards that Edwards' trial judge had correctly denied his request to act as his own counsel because of his mental illness. The government argued in Butler that the Edwards case had dimmed the bright line rule of Faretta and that the trial judge had been justified in denying Mr. Butler the right to represent himself. The facts of Butler, though, are that the trial judge denied Butler the right to act pro se because of numerous security restrictions the jail had placed on him, which would limit his access to the prison library and other resources necessary to prepare a defense. This is a markedly different situation than Edwards. A brief history of this case is interesting:

In 1994 Raymond Oscar Butler was arrested and charged with killing two college students during a carjacking in San Pedro, CA. He was subsequently convicted of both of those murders in 1995 and sentenced to death. While awaiting trial on those two murders though, he was charged with the 1st degree murder of a fellow inmate in the LA county jail in a stabbing death on the way to the showers. The fellow inmate was stabbed with a handcuff key that had been fashioned into a shank.

Aside from the jailhouse murder charge, Butler had other disciplinary issues while incarcerated, including three counts of possession of razor blades, and the state moved to prevent him from access to the jail's law library because of security concerns. The trial court agreed but the California Supreme Court in a 5-2 decision reversed and remanded the case for a new trial, noting that under Faretta Mr. Butler had the right to defend himself as his own counsel.

It was not lost on all concerned with the case (or on the Faretta Court either) that acting as one's own counsel in a first degree murder trial is not clever. The chances of success representing oneself in a murder trial are about the same as removing one's own appendix successfully: at some time in history some one has probably done it and lived, but it is more likely and much less painful if if the matter is handled by professionals.

So Mr. Butler's latest death penalty conviction has been reversed and remanded for a new trial. It will be interesting to see if he now does represent himself, or if he utilized the last decade in which the case has been on appeal to accept appointed counsel on remand.

Have a safe day,

Mark Stevens





1 comment:

  1. I can't believe this murderer is still breathing! I went to school with Tak & Go at Marymount College, and they deserve justice now! This happend almost 15 years ago.