The Pitfalls of Pro Se (Self-Representation) When Facing Criminal Charges

by | Oct 7, 2019 | World Featured

Are you facing criminal charges and wondering if you should try to represent yourself? If so, you’re considering a risky move that will probably result in a conviction. Hiring a private attorney is your best chance for a reduced sentence or even getting your charges dropped.

Courts don’t like pro se defendants

Self-representation is referred to as “pro se,” and while it’s a constitutionally protected right, it’s also frowned upon by most courts. Navigating the complexity of the legal system requires expertise you can only get from going to law school. Pro se defendants tend to slow the process down and frustrate the court due to their ignorance.

In the courtroom, time is money. Slowing down the proceedings will cost others more money, and they will likely feel resentment toward you. Some judges might help a pro se defendant to keep things running smoothly in the courtroom, but they’re not obligated to help.

Judges don’t take pity on pro se defendants, so don’t expect special treatment. If anything, expect to be scrutinized and held to the same standard as lawyers; you will likely be subjected to litigation sanctions for failing to follow court rules and regulations.

Court proceedings are complex

Going to court involves more than showing up and presenting your case. You’ll need to file motions, compile evidence, and navigate the court proceedings in a professional manner. Without a lawyer, you won’t know what to do or say, and you might do something wrong that has consequences, like not filing paperwork correctly. Or worse, speaking out of turn, presenting irrelevant evidence, or allowing your emotions to dictate your actions.

A skilled attorney knows exactly how to navigate the legal system in and out of the courtroom. An attorney will do more than just plead your case. They’ll find ways to exploit weaknesses in the prosecution’s argument, look for procedural mistakes that can impact your case, negotiate aggressively to reduce your sentence, and advocate for you if your case goes to trial.

Self-representation isn’t effective

The majority of people who self-represent end up with convictions that would have been avoided with a lawyer.

Self-representation isn’t easy in civil court, either. According to the American Bar Association, a study published by the Colorado Center on Law and Policy found that between 2014-2016, 68% of pro se defendants lost their fight against eviction from private housing situations. Those represented by a lawyer were able to keep their private housing 94% of the time. The majority of pro se litigants lose in civil court, but even fewer win in criminal court.

You won’t know what arguments to make

If you’ve ever watched a criminal defense trial on television, you know there’s more involved than just presenting evidence and calling on witnesses to testify. Your case can be presented from a variety of angles and many of those angles will be unknown to you. For example, if you were involved in a fatal car accident and you were the only car that crashed into another car, you might think you’re 100% responsible. However, other people can be held liable with sufficient evidence. If you ran a stop sign that was covered by an overgrown tree, the city might have some liability. If the car in front of you was texting while driving, they could share in the responsibility. However, without a lawyer, it will be hard to effectively argue these points.

Your case may not be “open and shut”

It’s a common misconception for people to believe their case is “open and shut.” For instance, when a person is innocent and has a solid alibi, they might believe there’s no way they’ll get convicted. The truth is, people are wrongly convicted of crimes they didn’t commit, even without any physical evidence connecting them to the crime. The rate of false convictions is estimated to be 4.1%. The risk of being convicted without a lawyer is already extremely high. If you’re innocent, don’t risk getting wrongly convicted.

Saving yourself should be a priority over saving money

If you face a judge or jury in a criminal trial without a skilled lawyer by your side, fighting on your behalf, you’re going to receive a harsher sentence. Everyone wants to save money, but if you can afford to hire a private attorney, that should be your priority. You may need to dip into your savings account or sell a couple of assets, but your life is hanging in the balance and you can’t afford to proceed without proper representation.

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