The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear the appeal of a Scarborough man who claimed he was denied his constitutional right to an attorney when a judge forced him to represent himself in a 2014 armed robbery case.

In her petition, Jamesa Drake, Joshua Nisbet’s attorney, had argued the nation’s top court should take up his case in order to clarify when and if a criminal defendant can be denied legal representation.

“This court should grant review to resolve the deep split among the federal courts of appeal and state courts over whether a criminal defendant must expressly waive the right to counsel or whether and under what circumstances he may implicitly waive or forfeit that right,” she wrote.

On Tuesday, Drake said she was disappointed in the court’s decision.

“We think that the issues that we raised were worthy of the court’s consideration. We’re hopeful that the court will take up those issues in some future case,” she told The Associated Press. Drake, Nisbet’s eighth attorney, did not immediately return a call for comment from the Portland Press Herald. She took the case on a pro bono basis.

Nisbet was charged with robbing a South Portland convenience store at knifepoint in July 2011, then remained in jail for three years as he turned away five court-appointed attorneys.

Nisbet’s first attorney asked to withdraw from the case shortly after he was appointed, stating that his relationship with his client had “irrevocably broken down.” The court appointed another attorney who withdrew four months later, saying that Nisbet had been aggressive with staff members. The third attorney also withdrew, citing “comments and conduct of the client” that “irretrievably damaged” the attorney-client relationship.

When Nisbet was appointed a fourth and fifth attorney, Superior Court Justice Thomas Warren warned that he was “at the end of the line on attorneys.” In February 2014, those attorneys moved to withdraw from the case, claiming Nisbet had threatened one of them during a jail interview.

According to attorney Jon Gale, Nisbet told him, “I don’t care if I get 15 years, when I get out, I will be outside your house with a high-powered BB gun and I will take your eye out.”

With that, Warren, in a decision that was unprecedented in the state of Maine, ruled that he had “no other alternative” but to require Nisbet to represent himself. In his order, Warren cited federal cases from other states and acknowledged that the decision was made against Nisbet’s wishes.

“Nisbet’s behavior, including his threats against counsel, cannot be rewarded with yet another continuance and yet another attorney, particularly when there is absolutely no basis to expect that a sixth attorney would be any more successful in getting along with the client,” Warren wrote. “The court understands this ruling is over Nisbet’s objection, and it takes this step with extreme reluctance.”

Nisbet, who had no legal training, defended himself in a four-day trial. A jury found him guilty and he was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Nisbet appealed the trial court’s decision to deny him an attorney to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which ruled earlier this year that he had forfeited his right to an attorney.

“Nisbet waived his right to counsel because he willfully engaged in misconduct that the court appropriately warned him would result in the loss of representation,” the court wrote in its decision.

 


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