People accused of state and federal crimes in Georgia have constitutional rights that must be protected. Recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit vacated a defendant’s conviction on prescription drug charges because the defendant did not understand that he had a right to testify.
At trial in the Southern District of Georgia, the defendant, a medical doctor, was accused of prescribing controlled substances “outside the usual course of professional practice and without legitimate medical purpose,” in violation of federal law. The defendant represented himself at his trial, and he did not understand how he could be able to testify on his own behalf.
At one point during the trial, the judge asked the defendant if he planned to testify on his own behalf. He responded that he did not intend to testify because he did not have a lawyer who could ask him questions and he believed that only the prosecution would be able to ask him questions. His response informed the judge that he did not understand his right to give narrative testimony as a defendant who was representing himself. The trial judge did not correct the defendant’s misunderstanding of the law. As a result of this misunderstanding of the law, the defendant did not testify in his defense and he was convicted.
The federal appeals panel found that the defendant’s rights were violated, because the trial judge was obligated to correct the defendant’s misunderstanding of the law. Because the trial judge did not correct the defendant’s misunderstanding of the law, the defendant was unable to present an alternative theory of events to the jury, and the jury could only rely on the prosecution’s evidence.
The federal appeals court found that the trial judge’s error affected the outcome of the case, and vacated the defendant’s conviction.
Source: U.S. v. Hung Thien Ly, 09-12515, (11th Cir. 2011)