Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Supreme Court splits over defendant’s waiver of counsel

Scott Lauck//May 5, 2023

Supreme Court splits over defendant’s waiver of counsel

Scott Lauck//May 5, 2023

The Missouri Supreme Court ruled on May 2 that a repeat criminal defendant adequately waived his right to have an attorney at his trial, despite a yearlong disagreement among the judges over how the waiver occurred.

Randy Teter was convicted in 2020 of attacking and briefly holding hostage an employee at the Jefferson City Correctional Center while he was an inmate there. Now-retired Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia S. Joyce permitted Teter to discharge his public defender and represent himself after he signed a waiver of his right to counsel. The judge said she would take judicial notice of prior hearings in Teter’s other criminal cases in which he had made similar waivers and been told his rights.

Teter was convicted at trial and sentenced to 30 additional years in prison. On appeal, he argued that his waiver was insufficient. But Judge Zel M. Fischer, joined by three other judges, said the signed form and the court’s hearing were evidence that Teter had validly waived his right to counsel, which shifted the burden to him to prove its inadequacy.

Fischer wrote that it was “readily apparent” that Teter was familiar with trial procedures, ranging from his successful strikes of potential jurors to his winning an objection when the prosecutor tried to disqualify one of his witnesses.

“Considering the entire record, which includes Teter’s background, experience, and trial conduct, in conjunction with the circuit court’s colloquy, the record clearly demonstrates Teter’s waiver of the right to counsel was knowing and intelligent,” Fischer wrote.

Judge Patricia Breckenridge, joined by Chief Justice Paul C. Wilson and Judge George W. Draper III, wrote in a separate concurrence that the waiver hearing fell short of what the constitution requires, as it was clear that the trial judge didn’t preside over or have transcripts of Teter’s earlier hearings and couldn’t have known what he was told at the time.

Nonetheless, Breckenridge agreed that Teter knew enough about court procedure to knowingly waive his right to counsel.

“Rather than undertake this straightforward analysis following the binding precedent of the Supreme Court and this Court, as cited in the principal opinion, it makes statements — rulings — that will misdirect Missouri judges and attorneys to misapply the law,” she wrote.

The ruling came nearly a year after the case was argued on May 24, 2022.

The case is State v. Teter, SC99464.

Latest Opinion Digests

See all digests

Top stories

See more news