Why People Consider Proceeding Pro Se
In San Diego, as anywhere in the United States, you have an absolute right to self-representation (pro se) in a criminal case; however, it is not usually a wise decision to use this right.
Reasons that people may consider proceeding pro se include:
- Cost – Some people simply do not have the funds to hire an attorney; however, if this is your case, you don’t have to go it alone. The public defender system was created to ensure that every defendant has access to representation in a criminal prosecution.
- Previous experience – Sometimes a previous experience leads an individual to believe that their previous attorney did not do a very good job and, therefore, they might as well represent themselves. Proceeding without representation, however, isn’t always the best solution to a bad experience in a previous case.
- Belief that a lawyer is unnecessary – A defendant may believe that the law and the penalties are clear so what is the point in hiring an attorney? An attorney, however, may find a defense of which you were unaware or be able to negotiate a more favorable punishment despite what the law appears to mandate.
The Consequences and the Rules of Court
When you are deciding whether you should represent yourself in a criminal court case, be sure that you have a clear understanding of what is at stake. The basic statutory penalties for a criminal offense do not always tell the whole story. Convictions often come with additional non-judicial consequences.
Courts have rules of court and rules of procedure that must be followed by anyone practicing in that court. There is no leeway with rules for non-attorneys. Learning all the rules of court and rules of procedure in a short period of time is unrealistic.
Discovery and Plea Negotiations
During discovery both sides share information. You must know what the prosecutor is required to share with you and what you must share with the prosecutor. You also need to know how to understand, analyze, and use discovery to your advantage. A minor error made during discovery could seriously undermine your case.
There are no standard pleas offered to all defendants. Almost everything is negotiable. An attorney knows what a prosecutor is likely to offer and accept.
Should You Ever Represent Yourself?
The general rule of thumb is that the more serious the crime you are accused of, the more important it is to have an attorney represent you. Ultimately, only you can decide if you have the time to invest and are willing to take the risks involved in representing yourself in your criminal prosecution. However, it is usually not a wise idea after careful consideration.