Are you facing criminal charges? Are you considering representing yourself to save money or avoid a public defender? While you have a legal right to represent yourself, it’s not a good idea when facing criminal charges.
If you’re thinking about skipping an attorney, here are five reasons to reconsider that decision.
- You can’t get an ideal sentence pro se
You’ve probably seen courtroom TV shows and movies where people represent themselves and win their case. The real world doesn’t work that smoothly, and it’s more nuanced in criminal court. Even though some people can make it through a trial representing themselves, they won’t usually get the best sentence if found guilty.
Depending on your circumstances, having an attorney (or not) can make the difference between getting a life sentence or 20 years in prison. Having an attorney (or not) can also make the difference between paying $30,000 in fines or $5,000.
Nothing is guaranteed, but you need an attorney to negotiate your sentence. You might be able to stumble your way through your trial without a lawyer, but when it comes to plea bargaining, you’ll be lost.
You’ll also struggle with the jury. Juries are tough to win over without a lawyer. They need to be spoken to in a specific, persuasive manner. They don’t typically believe that everyone is innocent until proven guilty and often want the judge to lock people up and throw away the key.
- Experience is required to navigate courtroom procedures
Without experience in the courtroom, as an attorney, you’ll be lost when it comes to many procedural aspects of your case. For example, you’ll be required to file motions, and you’ll need to file them in a very specific manner, which includes meeting deadlines.
When motions aren’t filed correctly or on time, it can cause you to miss important opportunities and it will cause delays. Delays may not seem like a big deal, but it will drive the judge and the prosecution crazy.
- Judges get impatient with self-represented litigants
Sometimes pro se defendants get lucky and go before a judge who will take the time to help them do things correctly. However, that’s not always the case. Many judges get frustrated and upset.
Since everyone has a legal right to represent themselves, judges should extend grace to those who choose self-representation in order to assure they receive the same access to justice as those with an attorney. Many judges do, but not all. You can’t choose how the judge will respond if you represent yourself. It’s not worth the gamble.
- A lack of knowledge can hurt your case
Not knowing the law or the court system can dramatically hurt your case. If you think it will be easy to just ask the other attorney for help, think again.
In most U.S. states, you can’t ask for advice from the other party’s attorney – not even regarding how to properly file a motion. Attorneys are bound by a code of ethics that includes not providing advice to an unrepresented party when there could be a conflict of interest with their client.
Sometimes, you might think your questions don’t constitute asking for advice. Even so, certain conversations will be off-limits with the prosecutor, no matter how simple they may seem. The only way you’ll get legal advice is by hiring your own attorney.
- No case is “open and shut”
Despite what you see in movies, no case is open and shut. Even when it’s clear that you are innocent or guilty, criminal trials are more nuanced than just determining whether or not you’ve done something.
For example, if you’re found guilty, there will be nuances regarding your sentence. Also, what’s obvious to you will still need to be proven to the jury. What you believe to be obvious may not actually be that obvious to others. You’ll need to present your evidence in a convincing manner, and that takes finesse.
Don’t risk losing your case – hire an attorney
If you’re facing criminal charges, you can’t afford to represent yourself. If you don’t have the money for a private attorney, get a public defender. If you’re worried that an attorney won’t be of much help, consider that they work with defendants all the time and have a solid grasp of what’s required to get the best outcome for your case.
The difference between hiring an attorney and proceeding pro se is huge. Don’t risk going to trial without legal representation.