United States v. Richard Owen II (11th Cir. June 2020)

The Federal Docket

July 6, 2020

Sixth Amendment/Waiver of Right to Counsel – When applying the Stanley factors to determine the validity of a waiver of the right to counsel, the lack of an available standby counsel alone does not invalidate an otherwise knowing, intelligent, and voluntary waiver.

Fees and Expenses/Seizure of Jail Funds – If a court gives a defendant notice and an opportunity to be heard before taking funds to be paid into the court’s registry, any error by the court is harmless.

Richard Owen II pled guilty to bank fraud under 18 U.S.C. § 1344 and money laundering under 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(1)(B)(i). He was sentenced to 236 months’ imprisonment.

On appeal, Owen argued that the trial court erred by allowing him to represent himself because he did not knowingly waive his right to counsel. Owen also argued that the trial court erred in seizing money from his jail account to be used to reimburse the United States Treasury.

The Court disagreed, holding that Owen’s waiver was knowing, intelligent, and voluntary applying the factors under United States v. Stanley, 739 F.3d 633, 646 (11th Cir. 2014). First, the Court noted that Owens’ experience working as a paralegal, with a self-professed skill in the law, his lack of any mental disability, the trial court’s accommodations to Owen’s physical limitations by taking frequent breaks and allowing Owen to be seated, and Owens’ age were factors supporting the validity of his waiver.

The Court noted that Owen’s actions throughout the criminal proceedings also supported the validity of the waiver, since he had repeated contact with a court appointed lawyer, admitted that he read and understood the indictment, and adequately responded to repeated questionings and warnings by the court. Owen stated during a hearing that he was not being forced, threatened, or pressured into a waiver. The Court also noted that Owen’s behavior at trial, which included striking jurors, successfully persuading the trial court to give a preliminary instruction and exclude evidence, and cross-examining witnesses, demonstrated “Owen’s understanding of the rules of procedure, evidence, and courtroom decorum.”

The Court did weigh one Stanley factor in Owen’s favor: the lack of appointed standby counsel. Although Owen refused assistance, the Court noted a lack of authority on this issue and weighed the factor in favor of Owen. However, the Court held that this factor by itself does not demonstrate that the trial court erred in accepting the otherwise valid waiver.

The Court also held that the trial court did not err since it “followed the proper procedures under § 3006A before directing that Owen’s money” be used. And because the trial court gave Owen notice an opportunity to be heard before seizing his money, any error was harmless.

The Court also held that it lacked jurisdiction to consider whether money from Social Security benefits could be used by the court.

Appeal from the Southern District of Georgia

Opinion by J. Pryor, joined by W. Pryor and Luck

Click here to read the opinion.


Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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