A while back, we showed you how a criminal record affects your life in Texas. Which brings us to another important question when facing criminal charges: Should you represent yourself?
When facing criminal charges, a good lawyer is a great asset. In fact, the 6th Amendment guarantees your right to hire and be represented by a lawyer.
However, some people feel they can represent themselves. There are a few of reasons for this;
- Lack of finances: When a lawyer’s cost is too high, a defendant may choose self-representation
- Theoretical knowledge of the law: Some defendants may know the law and choose to represent themselves instead of hiring a lawyer
- Distrust: Defendants who’ve had bad experiences with lawyers before may choose to represent themselves
Self representation explained
In the courts of law, anyone who chooses self-representation is referred to as a “pro per defendant” or “pro se defendant” which means “for one’s own person”.
The Judiciary Act (1789) protects the right of defendants to represent themselves in federal court. Also, the supreme court ruled in 1975 (in the Faretta case ) that defendants have the right to represent themselves.
Requirements for self-representation
It’s tough to represent yourself in a court, but there are many people who chose to do it.
For example, if the crime is minor such as a small civil lawsuit, a defendant may think it’s worth a shot to represent themselves, if they have some legal knowledge.
For judges to allow self-representation in a trial, they consider certain factors such as;
- The age of a defendant,
- Their level of education, and,
- Command of English.
Before a defendant can self represent in a trial, they must knowingly give up the right to a lawyer.
However, just because you are competent enough to self -represent doesn’t mean you should. Most legal professionals will advise you to seek a qualified lawyer for your case.
When you risk representing yourself, consider the losses you are likely to suffer. For instance, serious crimes can lead to a lengthy jail term or hefty fines.
You may also think a case is minor but end up suffering losses that will affect your loved ones, if you don’t represent yourself satisfactorily. For example, if you lose a traffic offense case, you could lose your license.
Why you should hire a criminal lawyer
In this post, we showed you how to hire. Now we are going to tell you why.
While you may feel self-representation is for you, keep in mind there are restrictions against representing yourself in a criminal trial, even if it’s your right under the law.
In Martinez V. Court of Appeals of California, the Supreme court ruled that the 6th Amendment does not allow an individual to represent themselves in a direct appeal after a criminal conviction.
A judge may also decide a defendant is not competent enough to represent themselves as in the case of U.S. Supreme court Indiana v. Edwards, 2008.
Overall, it’s better to hire a lawyer as there are quite a few advantages to it. Here are a few.
1. A lawyer will get you through the pre-trial phase
You may think that representing yourself in court only means standing in front of a jury or a judge, but that comes further along in the case.
The first hurdle to cross is the pre-trial process, and there are a lot of issues you have to overcome.
For starters, you have to undergo interrogation by the police as they try to get evidence.
If you are not careful, police detectives can push you to incriminate yourself, which may cause you to lose your case.
If you have a lawyer with you, they will help you avoid the challenges of a severe or misleading interrogation by the police.
2. A good lawyer has experience
You may think you have the legal knowledge, but you’ll find that while standing in front of a judge and jury, you need experience.
When it comes to pleading your case, you may find yourself making an incriminating statement because you are not used to putting forth arguments in front of a court.
It’s common for defendants to lose their temper in front of the court or get emotional when faced with compelling arguments by the prosecution.
Remember, you will be going against experienced district attorneys who handle a large number of cases and have a whole team in the DA’s office behind them. You need someone on your team with the same amount of experience and expertise.
3. A professional lawyer is well- versed in court procedures
When going through a court trial, there are a lot of court procedures you need to know, including how evidence is and should be handled.
If you represent yourself, don’t expect the court staff to assist you to do the proper things as they are prohibited by the law.
There are also procedures you need to follow in the courtroom during your appearances. Although some judges try to inform defendants representing themselves of their rights, some are impatient.
Do not risk getting an inadequate defense, entrust your case to a lawyer who knows how to navigate the courts.
4. A smart lawyer can handle a shift in trial proceedings
As explained above, some people choose to represent themselves because they are facing minor charges. For example, in the case of a misdemeanor where they think the consequences of a judgment against them are not too serious.
Unfortunately, this is the wrong mentality because charges can change and evolve, as a criminal investigation and trial moves along (Refer to our post on stacked sentences).
You may start with a misdemeanor charge, but the prosecution finds evidence that turns your charge into a felony. How would you handle such a situation with no formal legal training or experience in handling a trial?
5. A good lawyer can help you avoid severe consequences
While misdemeanors do not compare to felonies in terms of seriousness, the penalties for some can impact your loved ones negatively. For example, if you face a traffic charge and represent yourself unsatisfactorily, you may end up losing your license or getting a hefty fine.
If you are facing charges for a repeat offense, you may risk a lot of years in jail as the justice system frowns on repeat offenders.
Representing yourself just to lose the case and face such harsh consequences is simply not worth the risk. It’s better to hire a competent lawyer to handle your case.
Hire a lawyer
These are a few advantages of hiring an expert criminal attorney. When you weigh the pros and cons of self -representation, you’ll find it’s to an individual’s advantage to hire a competent lawyer when going to trial.
The criminal justice system may seem complicated, but experienced lawyers know how to navigate it and win. Choose to hire a lawyer today!