DADE CITY — Roger John Beckers wasn't happy with his attorney.
"He didn't file some motions I wanted him to file," Beckers said in court Tuesday as assistant public defender David Moran sat by his side.
Beckers wanted permission to act as his own attorney, even though he faces 30 years to life in prison if convicted of first-degree attempted murder in the stabbing of a 20-year-old girlfriend last year. Beckers also stabbed himself in the fracas.
Circuit Judge Susan Gardner looked over the files in the case and decided Moran had done everything expected of him in Beckers' case.
"I find him to be effective," she said.
Beckers said he wanted Moran out anyway.
Gardner wanted to make sure Beckers understood what was in store if he went pro se, a Latin term that means "for oneself" or "on one's own behalf." Law is a speciality that requires training and experience, she explained. By representing himself, Beckers, a former Home Depot salesman, won't get that benefit.
"You realize that you won't get any special treatment because you are representing yourself," she said, regarding Beckers' access to the law library at the county jail.
She also let Beckers know that he would face some obstacles. For example, as an inmate, he won't get face time with prosecutors as a public defender or private attorney would. Everything would have to be submitted in writing.
Gardner also told Beckers he would not win an appeal if he tries to argue that he was his own ineffective counsel, because he has properly been questioned and knows what he's getting himself into.
Still, Beckers was undeterred. However, he agreed with Gardner's decision to appoint someone from the Office of Regional Counsel as backup in case Beckers decides he can't follow through. That office typically represents clients when public defenders have a conflict.
Gardner asked Beckers, whose criminal record includes being extradited from South Carolina on a fugitive warrant as well as several traffic cases, if he had ever represented himself in court.
"Yes, ma'am," he said.
"And what was the outcome?"
"I was found guilty," he said.
Going it alone
Legal experts don't find that surprising.
Charles Rose, a professor at Stetson University College of Law, told the Times in January that "It's like trying to dance with somebody who doesn't know how to dance, or trying to play a game with someone who doesn't know the rules."
Last year, the American Bar Association surveyed about 1,000 state trial judges about self-representation in civil matters. Most said people made procedural errors and failed to present necessary evidence, properly object, effectively examine witnesses and craft good arguments. They said people hurt their defenses when they go pro se.
Defendants have a right to act as their own lawyers. This past summer, the Supreme Court of Florida reversed first-degree murder convictions and vacated death sentences for Khalid Pasha, who wanted to defend himself at trial, but wasn't allowed. He will get another trial in the 2002 deaths of his wife and step-daughter in Tampa.
In 2004, a Pinellas man also facing a hefty sentence insisted on representing himself in a murder trial. His standby lawyer thought Emory Carter had a decidedly defendable case.
But Carter rambled during closing statements, missed key points and cursed the judge.
He will spend the rest of his life in prison.
Researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report, which includes information from Times files.