Appeal from Walker Circuit Court (CC-11-100)
The appellant, Courtney Dickerson, was convicted of robbery in the first degree, a violation of § 13A-8-41, Ala. Code 1975, and was sentenced to 40 years' imprisonment.
The record indicates the following facts. On July 30, 2010, Ray Whitworth, the owner of several gasoline stations/ convenience stores in Walker County, became concerned that one of his stores might be the target of a robbery after an employee at one of his stores informed him that several people were acting suspiciously near the store. Whitworth took this warning seriously because another of his stores had been robbed two days earlier. Whitworth traveled to the store and watched as a black Chevrolet Impala automobile drove past the store several times that afternoon.
Later that night, Whitworth returned to the store with an AK-47 rifle and waited in his car. After seeing the black Impala drive past the store again, Whitworth entered the store, told the cashier that it looked like they were about to get robbed, and then returned to his car. Later, Whitworth saw two men scale a wooden fence adjacent to the store. The men briefly paused behind a trash dumpster, pulled out guns, and began walking toward the entrance to the store. Whitworth testified that he got out of his car and yelled at the men. According to Whitworth, he engaged in a brief shootout with the two men before the men fled the scene.
Thereafter, Dickerson was arrested in connection with the suspected robbery; he was subsequently indicted by a Walker County grand jury. On January 28, 2011, Dickerson was found indigent and counsel was appointed to represent him. Dickerson was indicted for first-degree robbery by a Walker County grand jury during its March 2011 term.
Dickerson's arraignment was set for November 21, 2011; however, Dickerson failed to appear. On November 23, 2011, Dickerson's counsel moved to withdraw, stating that counsel had "been unable to contact Courtney Dickerson for at least 30 days and ... communication has deteriorated between Courtney Dickerson and myself." (C. 10.) No immediate action was taken on counsel's motion to withdraw.
On October 10, 2012, Dickerson's case was set for "first call" on November 1, 2012, and for trial on November 13, 2012. On November 2, 2012, counsel's motion to withdraw was granted. Dickerson failed to appear for trial, and on November 20, 2012, an arrest warrant was issued for Dickerson.
Dickerson was arrested and taken into custody on November 1, 2013; he remained in custody until his trial. On May 8, 2014, Dickerson executed an "Affidavit of Substantial Hardship" form, indicating that he had no assets or income and requesting a court-appointed attorney. On June 20, 2014, the circuit court denied Dickerson's request by marking the box on the form beside the statement, "Affiant is not indigent and request is denied." (C. 20.)
Dickerson's trial began on August 12, 2014. Immediately before the trial started, a pro bono attorney stepped forward and asked the circuit court to reconsider its decision not to appoint counsel. This led to the following exchange:
"[Pro bono attorney]: Your Honor, Mr. Dickerson is here on a matter of which -- with a crime, which is a crime of ten years, I think, to life, impose a sentence of ten years to life, and that would, Your Honor, be -- we would object to going forth on such a crime without a lawyer. I'm present here for this fact and this and this only, just to make an objection prior to you going forth with the trial without him being represented by an attorney.
"He is asking the Court to appoint him an attorney. He didn't know that his other attorney had withdrawn, Your Honor.
"Judge, such a serious nature of this crime, it would require -- that the law would require you to appoint an attorney. As I understand Mr. Dickerson has requested that the Public Defender represent him. I believe he's been denied. He doesn't have no [sic] funds. He has no income at all. He's been ...