Arthur, Leahy, Thieme, Raymond G., Jr., (Senior Judge,
Specially Assigned) JJ.
day before his robbery trial was to begin in the Circuit
Court for Baltimore County, Earl Sylvester Cousins asked to
discharge his court-appointed counsel. In accordance with Md.
Rule 4-215(e), the court allowed Mr. Cousins to explain the
reasons for his request, but found that he did not have good
cause to discharge counsel. The court proceeded to inform Mr.
Cousins that the trial would proceed as scheduled and that he
would have to represent himself if he discharged his counsel.
Mr. Cousins said that he would discharge his counsel and
the trial began the following day, Mr. Cousins announced his
intention to disrupt the proceedings, and he engaged in a
profanity-laden tirade against the judge. The court ordered
that he be removed from the courtroom, but offered him the
opportunity to return if he agreed to behave in a civil
fashion. Mr. Cousins did not agree.
jury convicted Mr. Cousins of robbery, and the court
sentenced him to 15 years' imprisonment.
Cousins presents two questions for our review:
I. Did the trial court abuse its discretion in finding that
[Mr. Cousins] lacked a meritorious reason to discharge
counsel, including that it failed to conduct any inquiry into
a possible conflict after assigned counsel said he was
II. Did the trial court err when it removed [Mr. Cousins]
from the courtroom during his trial without providing him
with any means to monitor the proceedings?
AND LEGAL PROCEEDINGS
September 13, 2014, Mr. Cousins entered the First Mariner
Bank on Loch Raven Boulevard in Baltimore County and surveyed
his surroundings. A teller asked Mr. Cousins if he needed
help, and he replied that he was looking for his grandmother.
Then he exited the bank.
45 minutes later, Mr. Cousins returned with a second man. One
of the men approached the teller and asked her to make
change. The other approached another teller and said, "I
want everything you got in your drawers, don't give me a
dye pack, don't give me bait money and I've got a gun
so don't make me use it[.]"
from the bank's surveillance system, which showed the
incident, was played in court, and still photographs from the
surveillance cameras were introduced into evidence. A teller
identified Mr. Cousins as the man who robbed her. A detective
identified Mr. Cousins based on his detailed review of the
surveillance footage, photographs of Mr. Cousins, and time
that he spent interviewing Mr. Cousins.
County detectives arrested Mr. Cousins and interviewed him
regarding the robbery. A video-recording of the interview was
played for the jury. In the recording, Mr. Cousins told the
detectives that he committed the robbery with a man named
Nelson. Mr. Cousins explained that he was addicted to drugs
and that he committed the robbery to obtain money to buy
drugs. Mr. Cousins identified Nelson and himself in
photographs. A detective testified that he also interviewed
Nelson and learned that the two were "associates."
shall provide additional facts as necessary in our discussion
of each of the issues presented.
Mr. Cousins' Request to Discharge Counsel
February 5, 2015, Postponement Hearing Before Judge
Cousins first expressed disagreement with his appointed
counsel at a hearing on February 5, 2015, at which defense
counsel requested a postponement. Mr. Cousins stated that he
did not agree to the postponement. He said, "I'm
ready for trial today for real. I don't even need him
[defense counsel] . . . I'm ready to go and I have a
lawyer and it ain't him . . . John Deros is my lawyer
now." Apparently addressing the prosecutor, Mr. Cousins
added, "How do you like that, asshole?"
court granted the postponement, and advised Mr. Cousins to
"tell Mr. Deros the trial is now April 7, 2015."
March 25, 2015, Hearing Before Judge Cahill
time of a subsequent hearing on March 25, 2015, private
counsel had not yet entered an appearance. At that hearing,
Mr. Cousins's appointed counsel expressed concern over
his ability to communicate with his client and requested a
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: … I'm asking Your Honor to
enter an Order for an examination for competency as well as
criminal responsibility as long as I'm having him
evaluated. You may recall our last appearance before Your
Honor when the matter was postponed on the last trial date.
Mr. Cousins had some choice words for Mr. Cox [the
prosecutor]. . . . Over the course of the last month to six
weeks, Mr. Cox and I have been attempting to resolve some
discovery issues, most of which have been resolved and as I
collected that discovery . . . I have gone to see my client
and review those with him. Those conversations deteriorate to
the point where I'm not, I don't believe that Mr.
Cousins, it deteriorates to the point where he's not a
meaningful participant in one, reviewing the discovery with
him and two, being able to participate in strategy decisions
or litigation. . . . But based on the demeanor, I think
it's important to have him evaluated so that if
there's something we can do to, to help him be a
meaningful participate, participant in, in trial preparation
and litigation, I'd, I'd rather have that done before
we did anything else.
in the proceedings, Mr. Cousins explained that the case had
previously been postponed and that he was supposed to get
another attorney, but that this had yet to happen. The
following colloquy between Mr. Cousins and the court ensued:
[MR. COUSINS]: I seen my attorney and every time I see him,
it's the day before trial, okay? Now, we was going in
front of Judge Ensor, right? If you don't have everything
that you need for the case, then that's a discovery
violation. Don't get mad at me when I ask you for certain
things. I like to go over things concerning my case because
when it's all over with, I'm the one in prison,
he's the one home with his family, you know what I mean?
I've been in prison twenty-five years, it ain't, it
ain't a pretty feeling, right? But don't tell me no
lie, tell me anything get mad when I question what's
having something to do with me, you know? I don't be
disrespectful to you. I was trying to talk to you in the
bullpen, you walked away from me. You want me to respect you,
I respect you but don't tell lies and don't think
that you going to do anything to me because I'm not going
to let you do that to me.
[COURT]: All right. Easy, Mr. Cousins. Let me ask you this.
You just referred to the fact that you had another attorney
entering an appearance?
[MR. COUSINS]: I was trying to get a, John (inaudible) and
they talked, I don't know what's going on with it.
[COURT]: Well, did you hire Mr. Diros (phonetic)?
[MR. COUSINS]: I was trying to.
[COURT]: Okay. It would be exceedingly unwise, in my
professional judgment, for you to discharge [defense counsel]
at that, at this point in time, when discovery is being
exchanged and he, in my independent judgment, is trying to
look out for your best interest. But if you're, are you
asking to discharge [defense counsel] at this point in time?
[MR. COUSINS]: Yes, sir. Yes, sir. I'm asking --
[COURT]: Okay and, and then you would be left without a
lawyer, is that what you want to do?
[MR. COUSINS]: I'd be left without a lawyer. If I'm
going to give myself, I can get myself some time, I can throw
myself on the mercy of the Court because we are not seeing
eye to eye okay?
[MR. COUSINS]: And you know --
[COURT]: Is there any other reason, aside from what
you've expressed, to support your request --
[MR. COUSINS]: Well, how do I, how do I communicate with
somebody who don't want to communicate with me? I
can't walk out the County jail and say, hey, I want, I
call your office, you come and see me three times, and its
[sic] every time before Court date. You don't come and
see me, I'm right down the street from you. You got mad
yesterday, I can't watch the videos, I don't have the
pictures, all I have is police reports and some other stuff,
you know, I don't have the things that I'm supposed
to have. I filed my Motion for discovery, I filed for bail
review, I filed for the things I needed, you know, I
don't have none of them. I don't have no responses to
that . . .
counsel argued that the court should not rule on Mr.
Cousins's request to discharge counsel until it had
resolved the issue of competency. The court agreed:
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: I would think that should the evaluation
come back that he's competent and, and the Court wants to
address that again, that is absolutely appropriate but this
is too serious a matter to leave him without counsel, at
least at this junction.
[COURT]: Couldn't agree more. So at this point in time,
based on the limited colloquy that we've had on the
bench, or from the bench I should say, I do not find that
there are good reasons or meritorious reasons to support a
discharge of [defense counsel] and the Office of the Public
Defender. That's a, that's a matter that I can take
up again down the road but I'm going to deny any request,
to the extent that I must under Maryland law, complicated as
it is, interpret what you said and request a discharge at
this time, that request is denied. I'm going to grant the
request to postpone the trial in this case.
court concluded the proceeding by indicating that it would
"sign the Order for examination for competency to stand
trial, criminal responsibility."
May 28, 2015, Motions Hearing Before Judge King
finding Mr. Cousins competent to stand trial on May 28, 2015,
the court heard pretrial motions, which included a motion to
suppress Mr. Cousins's recorded statement to the police.
The recording of Mr. Cousins's statement was played and
transcribed into the record. In the statement, Mr. Cousins
admitted that he had been using large amounts of cocaine and
heroin, that he was intoxicated when he committed the
robbery, and that he committed the robbery to obtain money to
counsel, who was still representing Mr. Cousins, argued that
the court should suppress the statement because Mr. Cousins
did not give a knowing and voluntary waiver of his
Miranda rights. He maintained that Mr. Cousins's
admission to recent and extensive drug use, in addition to
his demeanor while making the statement, demonstrated that he
was intoxicated or in withdrawal and that his statement could
not have been voluntary. The court denied the motion.
February 1, 2016, Motions Hearing Before Judge
February 1, 2016, the day before the trial was to begin, the
court held a hearing to address a letter that Mr. Cousins had
written to the court. Before the court read the letter into
the record, it asked Mr. Cousins if he wished to discharge
Cousins responded by complaining of defense counsel's
failure to introduce a portion of his police interview during
the motions hearing on May 28, 2015. The portion of the
interview in question showed him lying on the floor for
several hours, asleep or unconscious, in a manner consistent
with intoxication or withdrawal. Specifically, Mr. Cousins
[T]he issue that I'm bringing towards the Court was we
had a Motion hearing and we were shown, the disc was shown
concerning the police interrogation and the whole disc was
not shown, parts was withheld and the parts (inaudible)
showing me high, sick, laying on the floor with a sheet
wrapped around me. Now if you're going to show the disc,
if you're going to show what happened at the arrest, then
show the whole disc . . . . You know, and it deals with my
arrest too, and I was high and if you going to withheld
something, that's prosecutor misconduct. My attorney know
what was withheld from the Judge and I wrote Judge King and
as far as him trying not to go in front of Judge King. Judge
King even said, if we have any other problems or anything,
bring it to him. Okay? I asked him to go back to him and let
him know . . . If you're going to show the disc, show the
whole disc (inaudible) and to say we're going to trial
for the 13th case, no, no, no, we
ain't going nowhere. This man is not going to represent
me. If you're going to give me a trial, give me a fair
trial, don't show what you want to show. The whole disc
deal with my arrest and that's where I'm at with that
and let's go over this, let's go over, let's show
the disc, let's show what he redact from the disc and
let's take it in front of the Motion Judge. That's
have a fair trial. If we're going to have a trial, have a
fair trial, you know?
court read Mr. Cousins's letter into the record. Mr.
Cousins's grievances included these:
1. The prosecutor had withheld a portion of the
video-recording that was shown to the motions court. The part
of the recording shows him on the floor with a sheet wrapped
around him, withdrawing from drugs.
2. On the day he used profanity in addressing the prosecutor,
he had asked to represent himself, and asked his attorney
whether there were "any prints, " but his attorney
3. He said, "I don't need [defense counsel] to get
me life. I could get myself that and that's when I cussed
[the prosecutor] and [defense counsel] out."
4. He "spent twenty-three years in prison because [he]
had ten whites, two blacks and all from ...