Should I Represent Myself in a Criminal Case?

By Ernest Hamilton

Mar 19, 2021 10:14 AM EDT

Should I Represent Myself in a Criminal Case?(Should I Represent Myself in a Criminal Case?) (Credit: Getty Image)

If you tell the court that you are going to represent yourself in a criminal case, the judge must first determine whether you are legally competent to do so. Among the criteria you must meet are not being a minor, the level of education you have, whether you can speak and understand English, and the seriousness of the crime with which you have been charged. As you can see, your understanding of the law or your experience with previous criminal cases does not play a role in the court's decision. However, once the court determines that you are in effect competent to represent yourself, you must understand that you are giving up the right to have an attorney represent you and that you understand court proceedings. 

Is self-representation a good idea?

Even if the court has determined that you are competent to represent yourself in a criminal case, the big question is: should you do it? After all, being charged with a crime is not something that should be taken lightly. Before making a final decision as to how you want to proceed with your criminal defense, think about these points:

Making an Incriminating Statement

Anything you say can and will be used against you, and this comes as no surprise. And since you most likely lack the specific experience and knowledge, you may say something that will end up hurting your case. You may be convinced that an argument you are using is a legal defense, and it might not be. You may feel confused or unsure as to how to proceed at some point and have no one to bounce ideas with. Hint: The prosecutor is not your lawyer and will not offer you legal advice.

Making Emotional Arguments

You are definitely passionate about your case and the charges that have been leveled against you, and you want the opportunity to prove to the judge and the prosecution that you are innocent. However, your emotions and your nerves may get the best of you and have you disrupting the court and irritating the judge.

How well do you know court rules and procedures?

The judge will expect you to know the rules and procedures of the court, and you will not be given a pass because you are not a lawyer or because you have never done this before. You cannot stop the proceedings and ask the judge to explain something to you in the middle of the trial. That is not the judge's job. And if you claim ignorance, you will certainly not be helping your case.

Do you really want to take the risk of representing yourself?

Being charged with a crime can have severe and long-term consequences on your life. By representing yourself and making a mistake while doing so or by not presenting your case in a convincing way, you risk receiving a jail sentence, losing your driver's license and driving privileges, and having a criminal record. By visiting, you can access more information on the many ways a criminal record can affect your life. You may be denied housing, be unable to land a job, not be able to continue your education, or get a mortgage. It may be wise to consider legal representation. 

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