The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees criminal defendants the right to counsel as well as the right to defend themselves. Individuals who choose to forego using a lawyer are said to be proceeding ‘pro se.’ The Latin term translates to “in one’s own behalf.”
The ability to go to court without legal counsel was in the media when a judge was videoed yelling at a pro-se defendant during a January 2022 court hearing. As of September, the Judicial Qualifications Commission is planning to conduct a hearing to consider possible sanctions against the judge.
The possibility of getting yelled at by a judge is the least of the reasons you should retain an experienced criminal defense attorney instead of proceeding pro se.
Self-Represented Defendants Are on Their Own
Pro-se defendants walk into courts with little or no legal experience. They will not get a free pass from judges or bailiffs if they fail to follow proper protocol. Defendants representing themselves still must abide by the same rules as lawyers. Because they cannot have the appearance of favoring either side, the judge and clerks will not provide assistance or offer helpful hints.
Lack of Courtroom Experience Hurts Their Case
Some may think that defending yourself is a good way to engender sympathy with the jury. Any potential goodwill is damaged if the defendant bumbles through the case, is reprimanded for not following protocol, or builds a case on emotion and not the evidence. Not having legal know-how also means that the individuals damage their cases when they are unaware of how or when to assert objections or file motions.
Attorneys spend years learning the nuances of the law and the inner workings of the court system. They are trained in how to effectively ask questions to elicit desired responses. Lawyers analyze various strategies to build the strongest case possible and aggressively present that case. They understand convincing closing arguments are part art and part science.
Self-Incrimination Is More Likely
In criminal court cases led by an attorney, the defendant does little to no talking. The lawyer speaks for the defendant. In pro-se representations, defendants must talk in order to present a case. An attorney knows how to avoid topics, how to phrase sentences, and otherwise limit giving the prosecution additional material to use against the client. Pro-se defendants are more likely to not fully understand the ramifications of what they say. They may think they are helping their case when in fact the opposite is occurring.
With defendants actively participating in every aspect of a trial, they are more susceptible to emotional outbursts. Not keeping emotions in check can give jurors the impression that the defendant is easily angered and capable of committing the crime.
Less Leverage in Plea Agreements
When evidence is likely to convince a jury to return a guilty verdict, effective attorneys work toward getting their clients a plea deal. Through skilled negotiation tactics, a lawyer might get charges reduced or obtain a sentence of only probation. Without experience and knowledge, pro-se defendants do not have the same leverage as attorneys when discussing possible deals.
Your Future Deserves Agile Legal Counsel
At Mitchell & West LLC, we have more than 100 years of combined experience fighting for our client’s rights. If you are accused of criminal wrongdoing, contact us to doggedly represent you. Too much is at stake – your job, your relationships, your reputation, your freedom.
Arrested? Make Mitchell & West LLC your first call. Reach us at (305) 783-3301 or complete our online form.