His current lawyer, the prosecutor and the judge, however, raised questions about his competence to address the severity of the charges against him.
Roberto Rivera, 61, told Superior Court Judge John A. Conte that he did not believe the Bergen County Public Defender’s Office, which is currently handling his defense, would be able to give adequate attention to the charges he faces.
Rivera has been housed at Bergen County Jail in lieu of $1 million bail since November 2012, when an FBI and Bergen County Bomb Squad raid on his Union Street apartment allegedly uncovered “highly volatile” precursor chemicals, a cache of assault weapons and “anarchist” literature.
Four counts of the 2012 indictment against Rivera charge that he violated restrictions against possessing weapons that were imposed due to a previous institutionalization for a mental disorder.
Martin Delaney, an assistant prosecutor handling the case, requested that given Rivera’s history and the severity of the allegations, the defendant undergo an evaluation at the Ann Klein Forsensic Center, a secure West Trenton psychiatric hospital, to determine whether he was competent to undertake his own representation.
“Does he have the mental capacity, is he competent at this point to be his own lawyer?” Delaney asked the court.
Rivera, appearing in shackles and holding a folder thick with papers, objected to such an evaluation.
“I certainly do not think I am seriously mentally ill, and I certainly think I can handle, to some degree, my trial,” he told the judge.
He recognized that he would be
at a “disadvantage,” but claimed that self-representation would be a more viable legal strategy than having the case handled by a public defender, a position countered by both Conte and Rivera's current attorney, Ian Silvera.
“Even though I feel I will probably go down in failure, I feel it wisest to take the helm of my own ship,” Rivera said.
In questioning by the judge on the constitutional arguments he submitted with his motion to act as his own attorney, Rivera admitted a scant knowledge of the legal system and procedures.
“You’re relying on the
constitution to substantiate your position, and you don’t even know what it
is,” Conte said. The judge added that should Rivera be granted his motion to represent himself, the court would likely require an attorney to sit second chair and assist in the defense.
Silvera, who has been called an “imposter” in letters written by Rivera to the court, asked that the judge hold off on ordering a psychiatric evaluation while he makes another effort to persuade his client to accept representation.
But Rivera, he said, has been opposed to an attorney since the beginning of the case.
“It was very difficult for me to establish a working relationship,” Silvera said.
Rivera, who faces up to ten years in prison on charges that include creating a risk of widespread injury or damage, possession of an explosive and unlawful possession of firearms, is due back in court Sept. 30.