WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court upheld a Baltimore man’s convictions on 49 counts of bank fraud, Social Security fraud and identity theft, rejecting his claim that the trial court should have let him represent himself in court.
A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said District Judge Andre Davis was right to reject the request by Larry L. Bush, who Davis said was “no more prepared to represent yourself in this trial than that easel sitting over there.”
The court, in a published opinion handed down Wednesday, also rejected Bush’s claims that he was denied a speedy trial and that Davis improperly admitted evidence in his trial. Bush has been sentenced to 105 months in prison for his federal crimes.
The case began in September 1988 when a woman told Howard County Police that someone was using her name to try to obtain a loan from Norwest Financial Bank. When the impostor called later that day to ask about the loan, she was told to come to the bank.
On her way out of the bank, Yvette Canty was arrested by Howard County Police Detective Ellsworth Jones. Jones also arrested Bush, who had come to the bank with Canty.
Bush was first tried in state court, but later granted a new trial. In preparation for the second trial, Jones went back through the record to “reacquaint himself” with the case. In doing so, Jones discovered that Bush owned a 2000 BMW that had been owned by a dead New Jersey resident.
With help from the FBI, Jones determined that Bush created and used fake driver’s licenses to get car loans, which he used to purchase luxury cars. He then created false lien release papers and resold the cars for cash.
Bush was indicted in January 2002 on 56 counts of fraud and theft charges.
In February 2002, his attorney moved to sever the charges with what the government believed was an eye toward a plea agreement, court documents said. But Bush rejected a plea deal in October and asked for, and got, a new attorney.
Bush then proceeded to file a series of motions on his own behalf, including a motion to suppress evidence and a motion to dismiss the case for violations of the Speedy Trial Act. Shortly after those motions were denied — and about a week before the trial was to begin in February 2003 — Bush moved to represent himself. After a lengthy hearing, Davis denied his request.
“I find you are not capable of representing yourself. . . . Although you have dropped a few legal terms and you clearly have done some reading on the law,” Davis said. He also noted that Bush had a history of mental illness.
Bush then asked to absent himself from the proceedings, saying he did not want to witness the rest of the case. Davis granted that request — and Bush was convicted in March 2003 of 49 of the 56 counts against him.
The appellate court said Davis could not deny Bush his right to represent himself based solely on Bush’s lack of legal knowledge and his history of mental illness. But it said Davis’ finding that Bush was attempting to manipulate the proceedings was enough to justify denying his motion for self-representation.
Likewise, the appeals judges found no error in the lower court’s denial of Bush’s motion to suppress or in the time it took to take the case to trial.
“We were disappointed that the court found that Mr. Bush was attempting to manipulate the proceedings,” said his attorney, Caroline D. Ciraolo. She said Thursday that he may ask for a rehearing in the case.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Baltimore declined to comment, noting that the office’s policy is not to comment on pending cases.
-30- CNS 04-14-05