Arguing That Criminal Defendants May Forfeit The Right To Counsel

State v. Suriano


The Sixth Amendment guarantees criminal defendants the right to counsel.  At issue in this case is whether a defendant can forfeit that right by repeatedly and cynically refusing to cooperate, and unreasonably claiming dissatisfaction, with court-appointed counsel in order to delay the progression of his case.


Door County Sheriff’s Deputies had served an inspection warrant on Jack Suriano to allow sanitation officials to access his yard to take a soil sample.  While the officials were taking samples and in the presence of the sheriff's deputies, Suriano approached them in a threatening manner while grabbing something from inside his coat pocket. Deputies restrained and arrested him for resisting or obstructing an officer.  During the course of his trial, Suriano went through multiple defense attorneys, each assigned to him by the court and each withdrawing because of Suriano’s behavior.  After the third assigned defense attorney withdrew, the court informed Suriano that he would no longer be assigned an attorney and that, if he wanted representation, he would need to hire his own counsel. 


The State argues that the trial court was correct in holding that Suriano forfeited his right to counsel: because Suriano’s actions were manipulative and disruptive to the progression of the case, and because he continuously displayed unreasonable dissatisfaction with each of his assigned attorneys, Suriano forfeited his right to counsel under state law.  


Status: Suriano petitioned the Supreme Court of the United States for a writ of certiorari after the Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed with the State that he had forfeited his right to counsel. The Court denied the petition.

Litigation Closed: