Submitted: May 16, 2016
from United States District Court for the District of North
Dakota - Bismarck
WOLLMAN, LOKEN, and BENTON, Circuit Judges.
convicted Sean Ray Conklin of distributing methamphetamine
and heroin after a two-day trial at which he represented
himself. See 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and
(b)(1)(C). Conklin appeals his conviction, arguing the
district court violated his Sixth Amendment right to
counsel because he did not unequivocally state his intent to
proceed pro se. Reviewing the determination that
Conklin waived his right to counsel de novo, we
affirm. United States v. Sanchez-Garcia, 685 F.3d
745, 751 (8th Cir. 2012) (standard of review), cert.
denied, 133 S.Ct. 2046 (2013).
charged in a multi-defendant indictment with conspiring to
distribute methamphetamine and heroin, Conklin retained
attorney Michael Hoffman to defend him in that case. Because
not all defendants had been located, the government obtained
a second indictment charging only Conklin with two
drug-distribution violations and dismissed him from the
conspiracy case. On May 9, 2014, Conklin attended the initial
appearance on the new charges with attorney Hoffman. The
magistrate judge asked Conklin if he wished to retain Hoffman
in the case. Conklin refused to answer, instead complaining
about fee and communication issues with Hoffman. Toward the
end of the conference, Conklin stated that he did not want
court-appointed counsel and would seek retained counsel.
trial set to begin July 15, 2014, the district court held a
pretrial conference on June 26 because no attorney had
entered an appearance as Conklin's defense counsel.
Appearing by telephone, Conklin refused to discuss whether he
had hired an attorney, wanted appointed counsel, or planned
to represent himself, stating that he preferred to respond to
the court in person. The court stated that it would schedule
an in-person conference and warned Conklin:
I want you to come prepared . . . to tell me specifically
what you're going to do about an attorney representing
you. And if you're not planning to have an attorney
represent you, then . . . . I need to specifically warn you
in person about the pitfalls and the dangers and the hazards
of going to trial representing yourself. . . . [U]nless you
have an attorney that you can tell me about at the next
hearing, you need to come prepared to answer a long litany of
questions that I'll have [for] you about why you think
that you can represent yourself at trial.
attended the July 2 conference without counsel. After he
complained at length about unrelated matters, the district
court focused on his representation at the impending trial:
-- THE COURT: [T]he issue here in [this case] is . . .
whether Mr. Hoffman is going to represent you . . . or
whether you are going to hire yourself another attorney,
which you told the Court you were going to do, or whether you
are going to represent yourself, or whether you want the
Court to appoint defense counsel for you.
-- THE DEFENDANT: I do not want the Court to appoint counsel
-- THE COURT: Okay. You do not want court-appointed defense
counsel to represent you in this new drug case, correct?
-- THE DEFENDANT: Yep.
-- THE COURT: All right. So are you going to hire your own