WAUKESHA, Wis. — The judge in the Darrell Brooks Jr. case Wednesday granted his request to release counsel and represent himself going forward.
Judge Jennifer Dorow found that despite suffering from a personality disorder and going up against experienced prosecutors, Brooks is mentally competent.
The decision leaves Brooks in the unusual position of defending himself against a score of charges, including six counts of intentional homicide. His trial is scheduled to begin Monday with jury selection.
John Gross, a professor of law at the University of Wisconsin Law School, said competency to stand trial “involved your ability to understand the proceedings and also work with counsel to present your defense.”
“However, competency to represent yourself is a higher standard because the court wants to make sure that you’re actually able to present a defense on your own,” Gross added. “The court has concerns about the fairness of the proceedings and whether or not the person is being afforded due process of law. It’s a bit of a higher burden to represent yourself than to just be brought to trial on a charge.”
Brooks has a high school equivalency diploma but did not attend college. Dorow said he has a constitutional right to act as his own attorney if he’s mentally competent.
Dorow said she reviewed evaluations four psychologists conducted of Brooks and agreed with their findings that while he has a personality disorder and is disruptive, he is intelligent and articulate enough to defend himself. She warned him that he will have problems understanding the rules of evidence, when to object to rulings and how to examine witnesses without any training, but she can’t stand in his way.
He initially pleaded not guilty by reason of mental disease but withdrew that plea earlier this month and filed a motion seeking to represent himself. He told Dorow in court on Tuesday that his public defenders, Jeremy Perri and Anna Kees, haven’t explained the nature of the charges to him.
Dorow questioned him repeatedly about whether he understood what he was doing, to which Brooks insisted that he was aware but didn’t understand. Dorow grew so frustrated with him that she adjourned the hearing and continued it Wednesday.
“The real challenge for him is the fact that the judge is going to treat him as she’d treat another attorney,” Gross said. “Simply put, ignorance of the law or procedure is not something [Brooks] can fall back on, and he’s not going to have a lawyer beside him, at least not at this point, based on the judge’s decision to not appoint standby counsel.”
Brooks faces 77 charges after prosecutors say he drove his SUV into the crowd at last November’s Christmas parade, killing six people and injuring dozens more.
“He’s going to have to navigate this on his own and trials are challenging for lawyers, let alone someone who is not a lawyer,” Gross said.
Gross said if Brooks takes the stand in his own defense, that will look different than what normally happens in court.
“He will testify in a narrative, so he will take the stand and no one will question him,” Gross said. “He will be able to make whatever statement he wants to make to the jury about the charges he is facing.”
Gross said because Brooks “does not have the same knowledge that a lawyer would,” the trial could run longer than it would have if he had kept his attorneys. He noted, however, things could go the opposite way — Brooks could participate less and the proceedings would run shorter than they may have.