A man convicted of using a fake gun to try robbing a McDonald’s restaurant where he once worked has been granted a new trial.
In a unanimous ruling, New Jersey’s Supreme Court held that a trial judge unfairly prevented Thomas Outland from acting as his own attorney at his 2017 trial.
Outland was convicted of conspiracy and possession of an imitation firearm for an unlawful purpose after he and an accomplice were accused of trying to rob a McDonald’s in Union County in 2015.
According to trial testimony cited in Tuesday’s ruling, Outland and the accomplice entered the restaurant and demanded money. But the caper was foiled when an employee noticed that Outland’s shotgun was a fake and called him out on it. When Outland took off his mask, a manager recognized him as a former employee.
Outland laughed, said it was a joke and tried to hug the manager before leaving, according to testimony.
When Outland indicated he wanted to act as his own lawyer, the trial judge questioned him on his knowledge of rules of evidence and other legal concepts.
In awarding a new trial, the Supreme Court ruled the judge’s questions were “more like a bar exam than colloquy to determine whether defendant understood the consequences of acting as his own attorney at trial.”