Of all the multitudinous violations of Charles Manson's rights which have occurred since his arrest in 1969 none is so substantial as the denial of his constitutional (Sixth Amendment) right to defend himself at his trials.
From the very beginning Manson has always voiced his desire to represent himself. On December 17, 1969 Manson made a formal request to do so in the courtroom of Judge William Keene. "Your Honor," Manson said, "There is no way I can give up my voice in this matter. If I can't speak, then our whole thing is done. If I can't speak in my own defense and converse freely in this courtroom, then it ties my hands behind my back, and if I have no voice, then there is no sense in having a defense. Lawyers play with people, and I am a person and I don't want to be played with in this matter. The news media has already executed and buried me.... If anyone is hypnotized, the people are being hypnotized by the lies being told them.... There is no attorney in the world who can represent me as a person. I have to do it myself."
Manson was examined by Joseph Ball, a former president of the California State Bar Association. Ball's assessment of Manson, presented in court on Christmas eve 1969, was that he was "an able, intelligent young man, quiet-spoken and mild-mannered. We went over different problems of law, and I found he had a ready understanding.... Remarkable understanding. As a matter of fact, he has a very fine brain. I complimented him on the fact. I think I told you that he had a high I.Q. Must have, to be able to converse as he did. And he feels that if he goes to trial and he is able to permit jurors and the Court to hear him and see him, they will realize he is not the kind of man who would perpetrate horrible crimes."
Judge Keene relented. "It is, in this Court's opinion, a sad and tragic mistake you are making by taking this course of action, but I can't talk you out ot it.... Mr. Manson, you are your own lawyer."
This situation existed until March 6, 1970. At that time Judge Keene, upset over some supposedly "outlandish" and "nonsensical" motions filed by Manson, vacated his status as his own attorney. Why the "outlandish and nonsensical" motions were not simply overruled was not explained. Whatever the real reason, Keene's action violated Manson's constitutional right to defend himself. Any defense presented after that ruling (and in fact there was none) was invalid, and in direct opposition to the Sixth Amendment right to self representation.
This issue was brought up in Manson's Appeal. In that appeal the California Justices denied Manson's request for a new trial claiming that a federal ruling which affirmed the Sixth Amendment right did not apply to Manson because the decision came after his trial and "was not to be given retroactive application". This interpretation of the law was later overruled inBittaker v. Enomoto, wherein a United States Federal Appeals Court ruled "Although California defendant's trial occurred prior to United States Supreme Court's Faretta decision confirming to state defendants the constitutional right to self-representation, denial of the California defendant's right of self-representation was a federal constitutional defect requiring setting aside of his conviction". Manson is mentioned specifically in footnote # 2 of this decision.
The right to self-representation is as fundamental and undeniable as any other right. It is every citizen's constitutional right. That is why Colin Ferguson, the seemingly deranged Long Island Railroad gunman, was allowed to defend himself at his trial. It doesn't matter if the defendant's defense may be unconventional. Self-representation is his constitutional right.
The denial of Charles Manson's right to represent himself during his trials is a fatal flaw in the legitimacy of those trials. Manson's convictions, and his present incarceration, are illegal.
Over the years Manson has filed several habeas corpus petitions with the Los Angeles County Superior Court protesting his imprisonment based on the claim that he was denied the right to defend himself. All of these petitions have been dismissed at the Superior Court level with no explanation other than that the petitioner (Manson) had failed to establish that the claims made in the petitions warranted the granting of the writ. This is a standard rubber-stamp denial. None of the legal arguments advanced in any of these writs has ever been addressed. This is to be expected. The California Court System knows what it has done to Charles Manson and is afraid of the consequences it faces if Manson is given his rights. Manson will never get any relief on this question from the California court system. Only if he appeals a new writ through the California legal system to the Federal level will he ever get a fair hearing. Then he would get a new trial.
No convicted person in the United States is more entitled to a new trial than Charles Manson.