Mother appealed an order of dependency, which in large part was focused on Mother’s mental health issues. The Fourth District Court of Appeal (Fourth DCA) reversed the dependency order finding that it was entered without a valid waiver of counsel by Mother.
In the middle of the trial court hearing, Mother’s attorney withdrew and Mother requested permission to represent herself. The court questioned Mother as to her educational background but failed to ask any questions about her mental condition except whether she had ever been decreed incompetent or insane. The Department questioned on multiple occasions whether Mother made an intelligent and knowing decision to represent herself and asked the court to consider the Mother’s mental health evaluation. The trial court refused to consider the evaluation.
The Fourth DCA found that without examining whether Mother’s mental health impacted her ability to make an intelligent and knowing decision to represent herself, it cannot be determined whether her waiver was valid. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. If the Mother continues to request self-representation, the trial court was directed to conduct a hearing consistent with it’s opinion to determine whether Mother’s waiver is knowing and intelligent. If the trial court determines that Mother’s mental health prevents her from waiving counsel, the trial court was directed to appoint her counsel.