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United States of America v. Charles Herman Staten

June 25, 2012

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
CHARLES HERMAN STATEN, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: (Chief Judge Kane)

MEMORANDUM ORDER

I. BACKGROUND

On June 9, 2010, a grand jury for the Middle District of Pennsylvania issued an indictment against Defendant Staten. (Doc. No. 1.) A superseding indictment was issued on January 19, 2011, charging Defendant Staten with distribution and possession with the intent to distribute crack cocaine and conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute crack cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and 21 U.S.C. § 846(a), respectively. (Doc. No. 28.) Trial in this matter has been continued sixteen times. (Doc. Nos. 18, 21, 23, 27, 52, 75, 103, 112, 120, 124, 126, 151, 155, 157, 165, 192.) Further, since the issuance of the original indictment, four attorneys have been appointed to represent Defendant Staten, three of whom have withdrawn due to Defendant Staten's refusal to cooperate with them.*fn1 (See Doc. No. 22 ¶ 4 ("Undersigned counsel received a letter from the Defendant . . . indicating that he no longer felt counsel had his best interest at heart."); Doc. No. 78 ¶ 6 ("The undersigned counsel can no longer represent Mr. Staten due to his extraordinary hostile attitude toward defense counsel.");

Doc. No. 176 ¶ 6 ("Defendant's refusal to speak with undersigned makes it impossible to provide effective representation on the scheduled trial date.").)

In January 2012, Defendant Staten began filing letters with the Court, many of which contain disparaging remarks about the undersigned and counsel as well as various requests for relief. (Doc. Nos. 161, 175, 202, 223, 224, 226, 227.) A recurrent theme in these letters is Defendant Staten's extreme dissatisfaction with the representation of his most recent counsel, Attorney Steve Rice, and his desire to proceed pro se at trial. Accordingly, the Court held hearings on February 3, 2012, March 2, 2012, and June 14, 2012, addressing this issue.

During the February 3, 2012 hearing, Defendant Staten initially expressed a desire to represent himself. The undersigned then began to conduct an on-the-record colloquy with Defendant Staten, in accordance with Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806 (1975), and United States v. Peppers, 302 F.3d 120 (3d Cir. 2002), to ensure that Defendant Staten's waiver of the right to counsel was knowing, voluntary, and intelligent. After completing nearly the entire colloquy, Defendant Staten elected to retain Attorney Rice as counsel. Approximately three weeks later, Attorney Rice filed a motion to continue trial, indicating that Defendant Staten refused to see or speak with him to assist in preparation for trial. (Doc. No. 176.) Accordingly, the Court held a hearing on March 2, 2012, to address this issue. At the hearing, Defendant Staten expressed dissatisfaction with Attorney Rice's representation, and the undersigned found that he had "reached a point of being unable to work with [Attorney Rice]." (Doc. No. 222 at 7.) The Court deferred making a final determination regarding Defendant Staten's counsel pending review of a competency evaluation. (Doc. No. 192.) Upon review of the evaluation, which reflected that Defendant Staten is competent to stand trial, the Court held a hearing on June 14, 2012, during which Defendant Staten was highly agitated, disrespectful, and unwilling to engage in any meaningful discussion with the Court. Defendant Staten, however, made clear at the hearing that he wishes to proceed pro se at trial. Despite the undersigned's attempts to again inform Defendant Staten of the consequences of waiving his right to counsel, in accordance with Faretta and Peppers, Defendant Staten spoke over the undersigned, refused to listen to the undersigned, and demanded to be excused. Accordingly, the Court concluded the hearing and granted Attorney Rice leave to withdraw as counsel for Defendant Staten, a decision made in light of both Defendant Staten's repeated requests to proceed pro se*fn2 as well as the disparaging remarks Defendant Staten made about Attorney Rice in a May 22, 2012 letter.*fn3

In light of Defendant Staten's continued refusal to cooperate with Attorney Rice or engage in a meaningful discussion with the undersigned regarding Attorney Rice's representation, as well as the baseless requests Defendant Staten has made in his letters and at the hearings, the Court finds it necessary at this juncture to address two issues. First, the Court will address the requests and statements that Defendant Staten has repeatedly raised in filings with the Court. Second, the Court will address, once again, the consequences of Defendant Staten's decision to proceed pro se at trial.

II. DEFENDANT STATEN'S REQUESTS FOR RELIEF

Defendant Staten is currently incarcerated at the Adams County Adult Correctional Complex in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Since January 2012, he, and defendants in two other criminal actions before the Court, have sent letters to the Court containing bizarre requests that are not grounded in proper legal authority. Defendant Staten has objected to a number of issues and has made a number of confounding claims, including that this Court is simultaneously a civil court, commercial court, and admiralty court. Defendant Staten's own words at the March 2, 2012 hearing perhaps best reflect the relief to which he believes he is entitled:

Your Honor, every charge has a penal sum linked to it. As a citizen, I must be given a way out, according to Rule 8, affirmative defense.

Now, that actually comes from the civil court. And since I'm being sued, I'm being sued by the Government for violating the straw man contract for transgressing against the law. I'm being sued -- the State put out a bid bond, the U.S. Government purchased that bid bond and brought me into this jurisdiction.

And, by the way, I would like to ask, before we go on, could you please inform me of my -- of the whereabouts of my Miller Act bonds, Miller Act Bond 273, 274, and 275? I know that, since you're probating my estate, that you know where these bonds are. Could you inform me on where they're located? (Doc. No. 222 at 5-6.) At this hearing, Defendant Staten went on to accuse the undersigned of fraud and treason, citing, inter alia, the Uniform Commercial Code. (Id.) The gist of Defendant Staten's requests appear to be that he be allowed to pay a penal sum to "remedy" his legal transgressions. Defendant Staten has made similar requests in his various letters to the Court, which also indicate that Attorney Rice's refusal to comply with Defendant Staten's misguided legal strategies has led to a breakdown of the attorney-client relationship. (See Doc. Nos. 161, 175, 202, 223, 224.)

The Court recently addressed similar requests for relief in United States v. Bishop, 1:11-cr-00038 (M.D. Pa.), and United States v. Palmer, 1:09-cr-00209 (M.D. Pa.). The legal authority relied on by Defendant Staten -- and by the defendants in Bishop and Palmer -- is difficult to ascertain but seems to be related to a theory that can be broadly referred to as the "redemption" theory, which the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has described as follows:

"Redemption" is an anti-government scheme that utilizes commercial law to harass and terrorize its targets. It is increasingly popular among prison populations. This theory advocates that an individual can "redeem" himself through the filing of commercial documents. According to the theory, the convict has a split personality: a real person and a fictional person called a "strawman." The strawman came into being when the United States went off the gold standard in 1933 and pledged its citizens as collateral for its national debt. Proponents of the theory believe that the government only has power over the strawman and not the real person. The real person, however, can "redeem" the fictional person by filing a [Uniform Commercial Code] financing statement. This allows the real person to acquire an interest in the fictional person that trumps the government's power. Redemption theorists believe that the government must pay the real persons millions of dollars to use the strawman's name or keep him in custody. If the official refuses to pay, the real person can file a lien. The official is encouraged to release the convict from custody to avoid this situation.

Monroe v. Beard, No. 05-cv-04937, 2007 WL 2359833, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 16, 2007); see also Monroe v. Beard, 536 F.3d 198, 203 n.4 (3d Cir. 2008).

Courts across the United States have uniformly rejected arguments based on the redemption theory or substantially similar theories. See United States v. Ornelas, No. 05-cr-0321, 2010 WL 4663385, at *1 (S.D. Ala. Nov. 9, 2010) ("Prisoners have sporadically attempted to foist such frivolous, irrational, unintelligible UCC-related arguments on federal district courts for years. Such efforts . . . have uniformly been rejected in summary fashion . . . ."); Luster v. United States, No. 03-cr-52, 2010 WL 3927786, at *2 (M.D. Ga. Apr. 12, 2010) ("Petitioner's references to the Uniform Commercial Code and commercial transactions provided no relief from his criminal conviction and sentence for bank robbery to which he pleaded guilty."); Black v. Florida, No. 09-cv-30, 2009 WL 1605410, at *3 (N.D. Fla. 2009) ("Petitioner's use of language from the Uniform Commercial Code, inapplicable to criminal proceedings, is . . . unavailing."); United States v. Mitchell, 405 F. Supp. 2d 602, 604 (D. Md. 2005) ("[T]he U.C.C. has no bearing on criminal subject matter jurisdiction.").

The Court desires to make the following issues clear: First, this is a federal criminal action, not a proceeding in admiralty or commercial law.*fn4 Second, the Uniform Commercial Code and legal concepts such as fidelity bonds, bid bonds, Miller Act bonds, and fiduciary trustees do not apply in a federal criminal action. See, e.g., United States v. Holloway, 11 F. App'x 398, 400 (6th Cir. 2001). Third, the undersigned is not the "probate" or "probating" Defendant Staten's estate; these matters have no relevance to this action. Fourth, trial in this matter will pertain only to the criminal charges identified in the superseding indictment.

In consideration of the meritless nature of the requests in Defendant Staten's letters, the Court must deny all the requests contained therein. Defendant Staten cannot avoid the potential penalties of the criminal charges of which he has been charged by appointing a fiduciary trustee or filing pro se letters in which he makes requests for oaths of office, registered assessments, or the completion of W-9 or 1099 forms. There is absolutely no legal authority that supports these requests. Defendant Staten is strongly cautioned to cease filing documents with the Court containing these or similar requests. Further submissions of this kind will be summarily stricken as baseless acts of harassment and manipulative tactics that the Court will no longer tolerate.

III. DEFENDANT STATEN'S PRO SE STATUS

Next, the Court will address the consequences of Defendant Staten's decision to proceed pro se at trial. As noted, the Court held three hearings to address Defendant Staten's desire to proceed pro se. At the February 3, 2012 hearing, Defendant Staten initially expressed a desire to represent himself. The Court, upon finding that there was no good cause to remove Attorney Rice and appoint replacement counsel, began to conduct an on-the-record colloquy with Defendant Staten to ensure that his waiver of the right to counsel was knowing, voluntary, and intelligent:

THE COURT: Mr. Staten, before you go, you have the opportunity to proceed either with Mr. Rice as your lawyer or without a lawyer, what we call pro se, representing yourself. Which course do you want to follow?

THE DEFENDANT: I'm going to represent myself.

THE COURT: Okay. There are a number of things that I need to ask you if you're going to represent yourself in this matter.

Do you understand by proceeding pro se, or representing yourself, you would waive your constitutional right to an attorney at every stage of this proceeding? Knowing this, is that how you want to proceed?

THE DEFENDANT: Yes.

THE COURT: All right. It's going to take awhile then, Mr. Staten, but I have a number of other things that I'm legally required to ask you. If you don't understand one of the questions I must ask you, please ask me for clarification.

First of all, some of the answers to the questions I already know, but I need to make a record. Do you read, write, and converse in English?

THE DEFENDANT: Yes.

THE COURT: Have you ever been treated for drug or alcohol addiction ...


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