Marshall George Cummings, Jr. of Oklahoma was charged with snatching a purse from a woman on October 14, 1976. His case came to trial in January 1977, and Cummings asked to represent himself, which the court allowed. However, during the cross-examination of witnesses, Cummings proceeded to make what the state later described as an "unfortunate error." He conducted the cross-examination in the first person. Specifically, he asked the main witness, "Did you get a good look at my face when I took your purse?" The jury found him guilty, and he was sentenced to ten years in prison.
Cummings later appealed his sentence, arguing that the court had erred by allowing him to represent himself and that "there was not a knowing and intelligent waiver of the right to counsel." As proof of this he pointed to his blunders during the trial. The state argued back that his incompetence could not have been foreseen in advance, and that he had been fully advised of his rights.
Cummings also complained that the prosecutor had used prejudicial "showboating" tactics during the trial. For instance, Cummings alleged that at one point the prosecutor had removed a document from his file "in a manner reminiscent of a musketeer unsheathing his sword to do battle with enemies of the king."
The appellate court decided that the errors cited by Cummings weren't sufficient to reverse his conviction. However, it did modify his sentence, reducing it from ten years to five.
You can read the full text of the appellate court's decision at Justia.com
Asbury Park Press - Jan 5, 1977