Have you ever tried to represent yourself in a legal matter? It’s not easy, and the court usually advises against it.
But what happens when a taxpayer repeatedly refuses to hire an attorney and insists on representing themselves in a criminal tax matter? This was the issue at hand in the United States v. Baucom, 486 F.3d 822 (4th Cir. 2007) (and combined United States v. Davis) court case. Martin Louis Baucom and Patrick Grant Davis were convicted of conspiracy to defraud the United States and willful failure to file tax returns, but they repeatedly refused to hire a tax attorney despite the court’s warnings.
Facts & Procedural History
This case is an appeal by Martin Louis Baucom and Patrick Grant Davis, who were convicted of conspiracy to defraud the United States and willful failure to file tax returns.
Appellants operated Baucom-Davis and Associates, a land surveying and computer consulting business, and failed to file personal income tax returns as well as income and employment tax returns for their business.
The appellants repeatedly requested continuances to obtain counsel, with Davis objecting to the court’s attempt to force counsel on him and stating that he had little confidence in the legal profession.
The taxpayers sent “questionnaires” to potential tax attorneys in an effort to hire tax counsel. The court informed the taxpayers that this was not an appropriate means for obtaining a tax attorney and it gave the taxpayers additional time to obtain tax counsel.
Despite being granted multiple extensions of time, they failed to obtain counsel and were ultimately deemed to be representing themselves for their arraignments and subsequent trial.
The district court denied their request for another continuance and the case proceeded to trial, resulting in their convictions. The Government challenged the variance sentences imposed by the district court, arguing that the sentences imposed were unreasonable and that the court improperly calculated the advisory guidelines range. The appeals court affirmed the convictions but vacated the sentences and remanded for resentencing.
A Little Help From a Friend
The taxpayers then asked the court to allow their non-attorney friend to represent them in their criminal tax matter. The taxpayers’ request – which was sent to the judge, who was also an attorney – stated:
Defendant . . . has little confidence in the legal profession . . . . Defendant is aware of a few attorneys he trusts, but their multi-thousand dollar fees are out of the question . . . . He does NOT trust just any attorney out of a grab-bag whom the government is willing to furnish; neither would this defendant be satisfied with such an “attorney’s” concept of the Constitution of the United States after the average attorney, full of law-school brainwashing, thinks that the Constitution is what the judges say it is, rather than what the Constitution itself, says it is.
The court admonished the taxpayers for “continuing to send questionnaires to potential attorneys after having been advised that this was not an effective means of obtaining counsel” and the court gave the taxpayers additional time to find a tax attorney.
Final Refusal to Hire a Tax Attorney
The taxpayers responded by filing:
a document entitled “AFFIDAVIT & DECLARATION OF CONTINUED EFFORTS TO SEEK COMPETENT COUNSEL.” The document contained numerous citations of Washington State cases and procedural rules. Among other things, Davis asserted that “[t]his court has NO authority to appoint me counsel over my objections”; “I can and will sue any Attorney for ineffective assistance of counsel who is appointed to my case over my objections”; and that “I can and will sue the person who picked my attorney and appointed him to me over my objections if said attorney loses my case.”
Fifteen months after the indictments, the court finally said that the taxpayers had sufficient time to obtain a tax attorney, they refused to do so, and, therefore, the criminal trial would proceed with the taxpayers representing themselves.
The trial commenced and the taxpayers were convicted. The court sentenced Baucom to fifteen months imprisonment. The court considered Davis’ charitable works in imposing a light four years probation (conditioned on the service of 12 months of house arrest). The taxpayers appealed the convictions and they lost.
While the court ultimately allowed the taxpayers to represent themselves, it’s clear that the court strongly advised against it. Representing yourself in a legal matter, especially a criminal case, is not easy and can have serious consequences. It’s important to seek the advice and counsel of a qualified attorney to ensure that your rights are protected and that you receive a fair trial. So next time you find yourself in need of legal representation, consider the consequences of representing yourself and think twice before refusing the court’s advice to hire an attorney.