DeLuna unhappy with lawyer in arson case


ALAMOSA — Charged with attempted first-degree murder and arson in connection with a house fire occurring nearly a year ago, Nazzreth DeLuna, 30, told District Judge Michael Gonzales on Tuesday he was not happy with his legal representation and was considering representing himself.

Judge Gonzales strongly discouraged self representation and told DeLuna to meet again with his attorney James Dostal, and if after that meeting he was still unhappy with his legal representation he could file something with the court in writing.

Dostal said he had met with DeLuna that morning but would meet with him again Tuesday afternoon.

DeLuna said he had only met with his attorney four times for a total of two hours since he was incarcerated for the September 18, 2017 fire. He said he is in his cell 23 hours a day and has been asking for access to law books, but the county jail does not have a law library. He asked if he fired his attorney would the court make sure he was provided with a law library. Judge Gonzales said no one was required to provide him with a law library, and that was one of the reasons he recommended DeLuna keep his attorney.

DeLuna said it was a violation of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel, and Gonzales said, “You have counsel.”

The judge added that DeLuna must make the best decision for himself, but he would encourage him to keep his attorney.

Dostal said he has been engaged in plea negotiations and thought he would able to present a resolution on Tuesday, but DeLuna wanted to talk to the court about representing himself. Last month Dostal had entered not guilty pleas in DeLuna’s cases and had requested another continuance to try to work out a resolution.

DeLuna was charged with theft, 3rd degree assault, criminal attempted 1st degree murder, 1st degree burglary, 1st degree arson, reckless endangerment, crimes against an at-risk adult and criminal mischief following a September 18, 2017 fire on south Bell Avenue in Alamosa. The house has remained unlivable since that time. At the time the house was occupied, and the occupant was able to get out before the fire that was allegedly started by DeLuna resulted in an explosion at the residence.

Dostal told the judge earlier this year that he had lined up a psychological evaluation for DeLuna, but he has not brought the subject up again after the evaluation was scheduled in June.

On Tuesday, Judge Gonzales told DeLuna that it was his right to represent himself in court if he wished, but he would strongly discourage it because DeLuna did not have the legal knowledge or background to adequately do so.

The judge told DeLuna, “If I was charged with a crime, I wouldn’t represent myself, and I know a heck of a lot more about the law … From my perspective, that’s not a smart thing to do.”

DeLuna admitted it would be difficult for him to research the law to represent himself since the jail has no law library so he does not have access to law books. He said he has been asking to read the law, asking about what he is charged with and asking to see his file.

“When he comes to me with a plea and says ‘this is the best deal for you’, how do I even know that?” DeLuna asked.

Judge Gonzales scheduled another court date for September 6 and asked Dostal to meet with DeLuna between now and then to see if they could work out their differences.

“You need to come see me today,” DeLuna said to Dostal as he left the courtroom.