Criminal Law: Self Representation F.A.Q.’s

Over the course of my law practice, I have had five potential clients decide that they would rather represent themselves. All five of those misguided individuals were convicted and each was given the highest sentence for their crimes.

This is not to say that self representation in criminal matters is never successful. However, you are much more likely to escape the system unscathed if you hire a criminal attorney rather than choosing self representation.

Self representation means that a defendant waives his or her right to a lawyer and instead goes through the trial alone. This might sound favorable to someone who is worried about his or her future, but most people don’t realize just how complex the law really is.

Why would anyone want to choose self representation?

Many people who have had negative experiences with attorneys in the past believe that they can do better choosing self representation. They might think that if they study the law and familiarize themselves with court proceedings, that they can adequately take on the job of self representation. Most wind up hiring an attorney sometime later because they realize how difficult self representation really is.

Can a judge overrule my decision to choose self representation?

Absolutely. If a judge feels that you are not competent to represent yourself, he or she can order you to obtain legal counsel, either at your own expense or through the use of a public defender. The American justice system is based primarily on guarantee of a fair criminal trial, and if a defendant is incapable of providing that for himself, legal counsel will be necessary.

Can my father (who is not an attorney) represent me at trial?

Absolutely not. Criminal prosecution must be defended either by the defendant or a licensed attorney. Even a minor in family court cannot be represented by a parent. You must make the decision: self representation or representation by an attorney.

What if I give my father Power of Attorney?

Sorry, the answer is still “no”. Power of Attorney doesn’t apply to criminal defenses, but rather is a document that gives another individual the right to make decisions in your absence (such as to sign a property closing or to make health decisions).

How can I decide whether self representation is right for me?

It should all boil down to the crime of which you are accused and the possible sentence you might be dealt. If you have been accused of murder, self representation shouldn’t even be an issue. However, if you are facing drunk driving charges, then you might feel comfortable with self representation.

I would say that if jail time is in the offing, you would definitely be better off with obtaining counsel. Often, attorneys can do more than simply represent you; they know how to file motions and appeals and can guide you through the process of testifying. Not only that, but they are skilled at cross-examination, which could mean the difference between conviction and acquittal.

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