When you are accused of a crime, you have rights. One of those rights is having a lawyer with you during the process - from questioning through the end of the trial - if you want one. If you don't want a lawyer, you also have the right to represent yourself.
Called appearing "pro se" or "pro per," representing yourself means that you must take the time to learn the law and do whatever a lawyer would do to protect your rights. Before making this decision, consider what it might mean.
Why People Represent Themselves
People choose to represent themselves for a variety of reasons. Some think they will be more successful than someone who doesn't know the facts of their case as well. Others represent themselves because they think they won't qualify for a no-cost, court-appointed attorney, but don't want to hire one at their own expense. Still others simply don't like or trust lawyers.
Representing Yourself Has Disadvantages
Criminal law can be difficult to understand. If you represent yourself, you'll have to learn the law related to your type of case. You'll also need to learn about procedures used in the courtroom - including picking a jury, questioning witnesses, preparing documents, and submitting evidence.
The prosecutor, representing the government whose laws you're alleged to have broken, is likely to be experienced and knowledgeable about the law and criminal procedures. Faced with such an opponent, an unprepared pro se defendant can be at a distinct disadvantage.
Standby Legal Counsel
The judge will not give you legal advice, extra help or give you extra time simply because you chose to represent yourself. To give you access to legal advice while representing yourself, the judge may appoint a lawyer as advisory counsel or co-counsel. The lawyer acting as advisory counsel may write up documents, talk with the judge on your behalf, and be available in the courtroom to answer your questions.
Co-counsel may also work with you as a team in the courtroom. A judge who decides that you are not able to represent yourself competently may tell the lawyer to take over your defense.
A Criminal Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding representing yourself pro se in a criminal case is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a criminal law lawyer.