Many defendants think about whether they should represent themselves in court (known as pro se representation). In most cases, the motivation is money, but in some cases, the defendant cannot see the point of hiring a lawyer because the case seems “open and shut” to them from a legal perspective.
In almost every scenario, including if you are an attorney yourself, if you find yourself in front of a judge, representing yourself is an awful idea.
Here are a few (of many) reasons why you need a qualified attorney at your side and what you risk if you do it.
Your Attorney Is a Legal Expert
In most cases, you would not hire an auto mechanic to perform heart surgery or a heart surgeon to rebuild a vehicle’s engine. The reason is that each is trained in their specialty and has experience in their expertise, but not in the other.
Even if one could conceivably do the work of the other, you would still want the training and experience of an expert, in most cases, doing the work they were trained to perform.
The same logic applies to hiring an attorney. They went to law school and did well, and they passed the state Bar exam and are licensed and certified to practice law in your state. They work with the law all day, every workday, with clients, judges, court personnel, law enforcement, and on various complex legal cases.
Unless you are an attorney, you do not have the experience or the training for self-representation.
You Are Not an Attorney
That brings up the next point: In all likelihood, you are not a legal expert. You do not readily know the difference between the law as it is written and practiced. You do not know what judges strictly adhere to the law or are willing to allow a little leeway. You do not know the nuances of the laws and how they are applied or the case law that dictates certain legal realities.
Court Cases Are Complex
In addition to not knowing the law, you do not know court processes, important dates, or how courts want to see certain legal documents. An experienced attorney will know what documents are due, when they are due, and how the court wants to see them formatted. They will also be able to comply with requests more quickly and completely. Since one misstep can severely harm your case, using a professional just makes sense.
Evidence Evaluation Experience Is Important
When the evidence against you is presented, it must be verified to have been legally obtained, processed, and handled properly. If there is a problem, your attorney will know how to use that problem to get the evidence suppressed or thrown out. An experienced attorney will also know how to analyze the evidence for weaknesses that can help your case.
Likely Case Outcomes and Plea Deals of Pro Se Representation
Your criminal defense attorney can also realistically assess your case and its likely outcome. They can also negotiate whatever deal is appropriate, something that someone not experienced in negotiation can easily get wrong.
Under the U.S. and state constitutions where you are charged, you have guaranteed rights to protect your best interests under the law. An experienced attorney will be able to oversee your case and make sure that all your rights are safeguarded. You might miss a rights violation if you do it alone, which can affect your entire case outcome.
The Case Is Personal to You
Because of obvious reasons, your case is very personal to you, and you are emotionally invested in the outcome. Your attorney can objectively evaluate your case and choose the best path forward. Your closeness to the case may obscure your judgment or make it impossible to be objective in any decisions.
The Risk: You Lose Your Case
Losing a civil or criminal case by representing yourself is not a foregone conclusion, but self-representation denies you the benefit of a skilled attorney. That can have monumental consequences:
- Losing the case
- Jail time
- Heavy fines
- Losing privileges like driving
If you do lose, it is very unlikely you will have any other legal options because you are not trained in what to look out for to build a successful appeal.
Hire a Qualified Attorney for Your Sake
The risk of losing a civil or criminal case you are facing is always there. That risk is increased dramatically when you represent yourself pro se and lack the training and experience of a qualified attorney.
At the very least, you should discuss your case with a legal expert and let them map out your options.