Thursday, July 01, 2021

No Error Allowing Defendant Charged With Impersonating AUSA to Defend Self

US v. Ziegler: Ziegler was involved in a minor car accident, which led to his arrest on suspicion of DUI. In the process, Ziegler claimed he was an Assistant United States Attorney working for Mike Stuart (the US Attorney for the Southern District of WV at the time), that he did not “have time for this,” and that any charges would be dropped. According to the officer, Ziegler also cited “a bunch of U.S. Codes” and “argued that the Supreme Court  that the Supreme Court had ruled that he did not need a driver’s license.” Similar statements made to court employees after his arrest, as well as to the owner of the impound lot where his car was taken, let to Ziegler being charged with two counts of falsely pretending to be a federal officer. He represented himself at trial, was convicted on both counts, and sentenced to a term of time served (with no additional term of supervised release).

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit affirmed Ziegler’s convictions. Ziegler’s primary argument was that the district court erred by concluding that Ziegler was competent to represent himself by not “adequately considering his mental competency” and by not reconsidering its decision based on Ziegler’s conduct during trial. The court found no error in the district court’s decision (much less a plain one, to the extent that plain error review applied), noting that the district court advised Ziegler of the various issues with self-representation and was able to personally observe his conduct. The court also noted that standby counsel made it clear that he had no concerns about Ziegler’s competency. As for Ziegler’s behavior during trial, including his questions to witnesses and arguments to the court and jury, “not every misleading claim or lack of knowledge suggests mental illness.” Indeed, “Ziegler’s performance during trial only confirmed his competency,” the court concluded, observing that “many great trial lawyers are combative and a bit full of themselves, if not outright narcissists.” The court also held that there was sufficient evidence to support Ziegler’s convictions.

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