If you are facing criminal charges, you may – for any number of reasons – be inclined to represent yourself in court. Generally, this approach is not in your best interests, and you are ill-advised to do so. Better understanding the process of defending oneself in court, however, can help you make some important decisions along the way – even if you do hire a criminal defense attorney in the process. Often, finances play an important role in a defendant's decision to defend him or herself. Sometimes, however, a defendant believes that the public defender provided by the state is not up to the important legal task. Whatever your reason, it is helpful to know what is involved in legally defending yourself.
The Legal Process
If you have been charged with a crime and are planning on representing yourself, there are specific legal procedures that you must follow. The U.S. Constitution guarantees everyone who has been accused of a crime the right to competent legal representation, which includes the right to represent oneself. However, if this is your plan, you must first formally request permission from the court. If you choose to represent yourself, you will ask the court’s permission during your arraignment, which is the phase in your case in which your charges will be explained to you and an attorney will be appointed (if you do not already have one). At this time, you can ask the judge if you may represent yourself pro se, which translates to without an attorney.
The judge must then make the determination that you are fit – or competent – enough to be granted permission. If the judge determines otherwise, you will be appointed an attorney who will take over your case. Further, the judge may grant you permission but also assign a backup attorney to ensure that you have the assistance you need for the trial to proceed according to a timely schedule.
The Court’s Pro Se Requirements
If you choose to represent yourself pro se, you will face many challenges. You will not only be required to oversee every component of your case but will also be responsible for the ongoing administrative tasks. These typically include:
- Filing all necessary paperwork like document requests and/or motions to suppress evidence
- Collecting, studying, analyzing, and presenting pertinent evidence in your case
- Interviewing appropriate witnesses on the stand
- Obtaining police reports
- Hiring investigators as necessary
Each of these tasks can be daunting in its own right, and they are not only an immense amount of work, but they also require considerable legal savvy and experience. In fact, without adequate experience, it is difficult to protect your rights and ensure that you obtain the most favorable resolution of your case.