Self-representation in Criminal Cases

Authored by , LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

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Representing yourself in court is called appearing pro se. You may only represent yourself pro se. You may not represent another individual, such as a child or an elder. If you want, you can hire a lawyer to act as your pro se coach. This lawyer can help you review documents and prepare for the hearing where you represent yourself. 

If I Represent Myself Can I Pay a Lawyer for Advice?

If you are thinking about representing yourself, you might want to seek help from an attorney that is willing to serve as a "legal coach" that you only pay for from time to time. Not all attorneys are willing to do this; some are worried about liability on giving wrong advice; some don't want to be involved unless they have full control. Try to find your "legal coach" before you make a final decision to represent yourself.

Why Do Some Defendants Choose to Represent Themselves?

Some who can afford to hire a lawyer don't do this because they feel that the likely punishment isn't severe enough to justify the expense, or they feel they can do a better job themselves. Many defendants, for example, who are charged with minor traffic violations represent themselves.

Should I Represent Myself or Not?

The more severe punishment you can get, the more important it is that you get a defense lawyer. First time offenders of non-violent crimes are usually offered the same standard deal by the prosecutor. You should be aware of that jail time is sometimes a possibility and with a conviction comes hidden costs, such as higher insurance rates. For second time offenders it is wise to hire a lawyer since the punishments for a second and a third conviction is usually more severe.

You should also be advised that judges will treat pro se litigants the same way judges treat attorneys. If you decide to represent yourself, the court will expect you to meet all deadlines, attend all hearings, fill out complicated forms, follow all the rules, understand the legal language, and be able to speak for yourself in a formal setting under pressure. If you represent yourself, be prepared to do all of items listed or your case may be negatively impacted.

Can I Find Out What my Punishment Is Likely to Be?

If you are considering representing yourself you need to find out what the likely punishment is for your crime. It can be difficult to learn about judges' common sentencing practices since it is not listed in statutes or court rules (unless you are being sentenced in a federal court). One way to find out what your likely punishment will be if you're convicted is to pay for an hour consultation with a private lawyer or talk to a lawyer at the public defender's office.

Can I Ask For or Hire an Attorney to Represent Me If I Need To Later On?

If you wish to hire an attorney after trying to represent yourself, you may. Be sure that you or the attorney notifies the court of your decision. Also be advised that the legal process will continue from where you are; you cannot restart the case because you changed your mind about hiring an attorney.

If you cannot afford an attorney and wish to be represented by a public defender in a criminal case, be prepared to show the court your financial documents.

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Last Modified: 04-05-2012 11:53 AM PDT

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