Six Reasons Why You Should Not Represent Yourself in a Criminal Case
Individuals accused of a crime often wonder if they can represent themselves without an attorney. In the legal world, this is referred to as a pro se defendant. The reasons for wanting to go it alone vary. Some people think they can handle it. Others worry about the expense of an attorney. Many just don’t trust the judicial system.
Taking on the government in a criminal case without a law degree or courtroom experience generally doesn’t turn out well. A good attorney can make the difference between a conviction and an acquittal. Here’s a look at the top six reasons why you absolutely, unequivocally need a criminal defense attorney:
1. Filing Motions and Handling Legal Procedures
The legal system is complex system of statutes, procedures, and rules. Experienced defense attorneys have years of training and courtroom experience. At a minimum, they have had four years of college, three years of law school and passed a rigorous state bar exam. Some also go on to become Board Certified in Criminal Law, which is the highest designation an attorney can reach.
Working in the legal field is similar to the medical field in that it requires a great deal of particularized knowledge. Most people would never consider performing surgery on themselves. The risk is just too great. The same philosophy can be applied to a defendant representing himself in criminal case. One misstep can quickly derail a case and possibly jeopardize your freedom, job, family and assets. An experienced attorney knows how to handle legal procedures, including drafting and filing motions and briefs in a timely manner and requesting necessary court hearings.
2. Examining and Evaluating Evidence
When law enforcement start turning over their evidence as required by law, it’s imperative to analyze everything to make sure it was legally obtained, stored and protected. If it wasn’t, a strong defense attorney can make a legal argument to have it suppressed or thrown out. Likewise, an astute attorney can identify potential weaknesses in the prosecution’s case, such as contradictory or exaggerated witness statements.
3. Negotiating Plea Bargains
Many people don’t realize that most criminal cases do not go to trial. They are resolved through a plea bargain agreement with the prosecutor. Having said that, plea bargains are not offered in every case. Many times, prosecutors are unwilling to negotiate with defendants who are representing themselves, especially if it’s for a violent or serious crime.
Defendants who hope to resolve their case through a plea bargain should leave the negotiating to a skilled criminal defense attorney who knows the ropes and the prosecutor handling the case. Not only could an experienced defense attorney possibly get the charge reduced, but they will know about diversion programs in the community designed for first-time offenders, military veterans, or people suffering from mental health issues or drug and alcohol addiction, which may be an alternative to traditional sentencing. A knowledgeable defense attorney will explore and present all viable options and work toward an outcome that will be most beneficial to you and your future. If a plea bargain can’t be reached or is not the best option, an attorney can give you an informed and educated recommendation on how to proceed.
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4. Accessing Experts Witnesses
When preparing a defense, it’s often necessary to enlist the assistance of other professionals, such as private investigators, psychologists, or DNA, blood or ballistics experts. A skilled attorney who works in the area will have a network of such professionals at their fingertips, while a pro se defendant may have no idea where to turn for assistance.
5. Trying a Criminal Case
Picking a jury, questioning witnesses, presenting evidence and making appropriate legal objections and arguments is not something that can be learned in a few days or weeks or by watching television or reading law books. Successfully trying a criminal case takes sharp legal skills, which can only be honed over time and through experience. When it comes to trying a criminal case before a jury, there really is no substitute for an experienced trial attorney who is at home in the courtroom.
6. Protecting Your Rights
If you are accused of a crime, you have a number of important rights that are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. These include the right to remain silent, the right to a speedy trial, the right to confront witnesses who are testifying against you and, yes, the right to an attorney. These rights have been developed through case law and requires in-depth analysis before arguments are made. This is yet another reason why you need a criminal defense attorney who will fight on your behalf. When the stakes are high – as they generally are in a criminal case – going it alone is generally not a good idea.
Don’t forget that your right to a criminal defense attorney is so great that, if you cannot afford an attorney, one must be appointed to you. For this reason, it is rare to see a pro se defendant. If you are thinking about representing yourself, which sometimes seems especially tempting for lawyers accused of crimes, think about handling a criminal case like performing surgery. Is this something you really want to do yourself?
Don’t go it alone. If you or a loved one is facing a criminal charge, contact one of our experienced criminal defense attorneys today for a complimentary strategy session. During this call we will:
- Discuss the facts of your case;
- Discuss the legal issues involved, including the direct and collateral consequences of the allegation; and
- Discuss the defenses that apply to your plan and in general terms discuss our approach to your case.
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Also published on Medium.