While people are allowed to represent themselves in court, they must first be found to be competent to do so before a judge will allow them to do so. Even if a person is found to be competent enough to represent himself or herself, however, that does not mean that it is a good idea to do so. In criminal cases, people face the potential loss of their freedom and other harsh consequences. It is rarely a good idea for anyone to try to represent himself or herself in a criminal case. If you are facing charges in Chester County, Pennsylvania, you should consider speaking to a criminal defense lawyer at DiCindio Law for advice about your case and your legal options.
Requirement Of Competence
Before a judge will grant your request to represent yourself, he or she must first find that you are legally competent. The U.S. Supreme Court established that criminal defendants have the right to represent themselves in 1975 in Faretta v California, 422 U.S. 806 (1975). In that case, the Supreme Court found that judges must allow defendants to represent themselves when they determine that the defendants are competent to understand the proceedings and participate in them. Defendants who are found competent and are allowed to represent themselves are generally referred to as pro se or proper defendants.
When a defendant asks to represent himself or herself, the court will consider a number of factors, including the defendant’s age, educational level, English-speaking and reading ability, and the seriousness of the charges the defendant is facing. Courts will allow defendants to represent themselves when they find that they are competent, understand the court proceedings, and knowingly waive their rights to be represented by attorneys.
While you might have the right to represent yourself, however, it is not a good idea to do so. Several reasons why you should avoid defending yourself against criminal charges are described below.
1. Insufficient Legal Knowledge
Attorneys spend years in college and law school to learn about the law and the rules of procedure. The laws are complex and frequently change with legislation and case law. Trying to figure out the current laws that apply and the procedural expectations of the court can be overwhelming. Even though you might be determined competent to represent yourself, that does not mean that you will do a good job. If you want to secure the most favorable outcome under the facts of your case, it is best to retain an experienced criminal defense lawyer to fight for you in court. Even if your budget is limited, it is still a good idea to talk to an attorney. If you can’t afford to hire an attorney and have a limited income, you can ask the court to appoint a public defender to represent you in your criminal case.
Many people who are facing criminal charges have little to no courtroom experience. Even if you have appeared in court before, when you represent yourself, you will face a prosecutor who has been trained and educated in the law. You will be at an immediate power imbalance in terms of your experience and knowledge when you try to go up against a prosecuting attorney. You might also be at a disadvantage because you do not know the other court personnel in the courtroom while the prosecutor likely does. You also likely do not know the rules of evidence and how to admit evidence in court or how and when to object to evidence and arguments the prosecutor might put forward. Having experience with these things and others is necessary for you to be able to present your defense in the best way. Without legal training and experience, it is unlikely that you will be able to do so. Having an attorney to represent you in court will increase your chances of securing a favorable plea agreement or a dismissal of your charges.
3. Potential Self-Incrimination
Without the requisite experience and knowledge, it is easy for you to accidentally incriminate yourself when you try to plead your position. For example, you might say something that you believe will help you but might actually be something that strengthens the state’s case against you instead. As a criminal defendant, anything that you say can be used against you by the prosecution at your trial. You should take that seriously before your words come back to haunt you at trial.
4. Lack Of Emotional Distance
Even if you are an attorney yourself, it is still not a good idea to represent yourself when facing criminal charges. People who are charged with crimes are emotionally wrapped up in their cases and tend to get defensive when they are placed under pressure. When you make emotional arguments, they can make your presentation ineffective. Because of this reason, most attorneys who are charged with crimes promptly retain other lawyers to represent them in criminal court rather than taking chances.
5. Lack Of Knowledge About Rules And Procedures
Courts have specific rules, and those rules might vary by jurisdiction. There are also specific procedures in place. When you represent yourself, you will be expected to know and follow the rules and procedures in the same ways that attorneys appearing in court are. If you are convicted, you also cannot base your appeal on your personal lack of knowledge about the trial procedure because you represented yourself.
6. Judge Is Not There To Help
Some pro se defendants think that the judge or court staff will help them if they need it. However, judges are impartial and cannot help either side, and court personnel cannot give you any legal advice or evaluate your defense strategy for you. When you could be sentenced to jail if convicted, you should instead seek out a criminal defense attorney to advise and represent you.
7. Too Much Risk
When you try to represent yourself in a criminal case, your chances of winning are low. People who try to represent themselves lose in most cases. You might end up being convicted of all of the charges filed against you and face a much longer sentence than you might have otherwise received if you had an attorney to represent you.
How Do I Find A Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me?
If you are facing criminal charges in West Chester, Pennsylvania, it is a good idea for you to find a local attorney who is experienced in handling criminal cases. Michael DiCindio at DiCindio Law is an experienced criminal defense attorney with past experience working as a prosecutor. To learn about your case and the potential defenses that you might raise, call us today at (610) 430-3535.