Eighth Circuit: No Right to Proceed Pro Se

By William Vogeler, Esq. on July 06, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A federal appeals court rejected a man's demand to represent himself, ruling that a criminal defendant has no right to proceed pro se post-conviction or on appeal.

The U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals said the Sixth Amendment includes the right to proceed without counsel at trial, but does not include any right to appeal. Moreover, the court said in United States v. Tollefson, the limitation includes post-conviction proceedings.

Bruce Charles Tollefson argued that his court-appointed attorney provided ineffective assistance. However, the court said, he had no right to counsel anyway.

"Because Tollefson had no right to counsel during his post-conviction sentence reduction proceedings, he cannot assert a 'valid claim for ineffective assistance,'" Judge Diana E. Murphy wrote for the court.

Slashed Throat

According to court records, Tollefson was involved in a notorious drug ring in Fargo, North Dakota. They used violence and threats in their conspiracy to distribute cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana.

On one occasion, Tollefson instructed Charles Dewald to attack a drug dealer to keep him from talking to police. Dewald slashed the man's throat with a knife.

Tollefson pled guilty to one count of conspiring to distribute illegal drugs and to one count of violent crime in a racketeering activity in 2005. He was sentenced to 227 months in prison.

After an amendment to sentencing guidelines, Tollefson filed a motion pro se for a sentence reduction. A public defender filed a supplement to the motion.

Sixth Amendment

The district court judge denied the motion, and Tollefson appealed. He argued the district court violated his Sixth Amendment right to represent himself, saying the public defender was "forced upon him."

Citing Martinez v. Court of Appeal, the Eighth Circuit said the Sixth Amendment right to proceed pro se "was confined to the right to defend oneself at trial" and did "not include any right to appeal."

"This reasoning applies equally to post-conviction sentence reduction proceedings," the appellate panel said.

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