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District Court of Appeal of Florida, Fifth District.

MOURAD BALZOURT, Petitioner, v. STATE OF FLORIDA, Respondent.

Case No. 5D16-2929

Decided: February 24, 2017

Mourad Balzourt, Jasper, pro se. Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Douglas T. Squire, Assistant Attorney General, Daytona Beach, for Respondent.

Mourad Balzourt was convicted of second-degree murder and abuse of a corpse. He was sentenced to life in prison on the murder conviction and to five years on the abuse of a corpse conviction. His convictions were per curiam affirmed by this court. Balzourt v. State, 189 So. 3d 792 (Fla. 5th DCA 2016).

Subsequently, Balzourt filed a petition and supplemental petition for postconviction relief pursuant to Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.141(d), alleging ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. He argues, inter alia, that appellate counsel should have raised as an issue the trial court's failure to conduct an adequate Faretta 1 inquiry when Balzourt requested to represent himself at the sentencing hearing. We find merit to this argument.

Balzourt was represented by counsel at trial. At the onset of the sentencing hearing, Balzourt advised the trial court of his belief that his trial counsel had a “conflict of interest” and made an unequivocal request to represent himself. The trial court made inquiry on the purported “conflict of interest” claim, but failed to conduct a Faretta inquiry. Thereafter, Balzourt's request for self-representation was denied.

Failure to hold a proper Faretta hearing at a critical stage of the proceedings is reversible error. Eib v. State, 191 So. 3d 977, 979 (Fla. 2d DCA 2016). Sentencing is a critical stage of the proceedings. Id.

Appellate counsel was ineffective in not raising on direct appeal the trial court's failure to conduct a Faretta inquiry. Given that Balzourt was sentenced to life, this error cannot be deemed harmless. Because a new appeal would be redundant, we grant the petition as to this issue and remand for a Faretta hearing. If Balzourt is allowed to represent himself following the Faretta hearing, the trial court is directed to vacate his present sentence and proceed with resentencing.

We find the other issues raised in Balzourt's petition to be without merit.



1.   Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806, 835 (1975).


PALMER and LAMBERT, JJ., concur.

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