Should I represent myself in a criminal trial?
Representing yourself at a criminal trial is never a good idea. The old Abraham Lincoln quote, “He who represents himself has a fool for a client” has a lot of truth to it.
The criminal justice system can be incredibly frustrating. It chews people up and spits them out and seems to pull people back in to do it over and over again. It can really wear people down, and many times, out of frustration with the lawyers they have dealt with in the past or the one they are dealing with currently, people decide that they are going to take matters into their own hands.
This is a bad idea for a lot of reasons. First, in order to effectively represent yourself, you need to be familiar with the court rules, rules of evidence, and the statutes that apply to your case. Lawyers spend years learning these things, and for the most part, you aren’t going to have the time to get up to speed on how things work. This can put you at a significant disadvantage when you are going up against a prosecuting attorney who is familiar with the court rules and rules of evidence.
Second, no matter how good you are, judges and jurors are going to look at you differently because you are not represented, and not in a good way. Judges find defendants who want to represent themselves to be frustrating, and quite frankly, most of them look at those defendants like they have a mental illness. While people have the right to defend themselves in court if they want to, most of the people who actually do it are those who suffer from mental illness.
The fact is, if you represent yourself, you are likely to miss something. You don’t know what you don’t know. You don’t know how to preserve the issues in your case properly.
There are better ways to deal with the frustration you might be experiencing with the criminal justice system. If you don’t like your attorney, you should get a different one. For example, if you are represented by a court-appointed attorney, and you are unhappy with their representation, tell them that you would like a different attorney appointed. Or, if you just feel that your court-appointed counsel is not giving your case the time it deserves, have a frank conversation with your lawyer about what you need them to do. If you have retained counsel that you are unhappy with, you can change lawyers. Call several lawyers and request consultations and figure out who you are most comfortable with. Your lawyer should be someone who is on your team. You should work well with them. However, it should not be yourself. You need someone else with experience who can make sure that you get through the system successfully.
If you have been charged with a crime, it is important that you contact an experienced criminal lawyer right away.