Thursday, December 10, 2009

Don't EVEN Try to Defend Yourself if You are Accused of a Crime

Twice in two days I was appointed to represent accused folks on misdemeanor cases in which they insisted they wanted to represent themselves. In both situations, the cases had been reset numerous times; both accuseds previously had lawyers but for different reasons, they no longer had their lawyer.

While a person has the constitutional right to represent oneself, I and at least most of my colleagues, STRONGLY recommend against self representation. For one thing, if you do not have a law degree, you do not know what you are doing. Period. (Many with law degrees do not know what they are doing - but that is another topic.)

Second, the prosecutors look at the accused, in general, with contempt (even the nicer prosecutors.) They assume that the police have righteously arrested someone and that when the charges were accepted by another assistant district attorney, the filing was done with at least some consideration of the law and the facts. Therefore, as is common, they eye the accused with suspicion.

Third, when you are the one wrongfully accused, you tend to also be emotional - sometimes over the top and directing the emotions at the wrong people. You are involved. It is hard to step back from the situation and explain in a rational, unemotional manner, what you see as the problem. This is just human nature. Yet no one, especially in the prosecutors' situation as explained in the second reason above, cares to be talked to aggressively by an accused.

I could go on with reasons but they are not the point. Just don't represent yourself - especially when the judge is about to appoint a lawyer to you. At least see what that lawyer can do for you.

Both of these women were indigent, and rightfully deserved to have an attorney appointed. The judge appointed me (as I was already working in that court for the day.) Both of these women got aggressive towards me as I began to explain that the court had found them indigent, and had appointed me to represent them. (One of them would not be quiet until I abruptly told her to sign the appointment sheet and if she was not satisfied with what I got done for her, then she could hire another lawyer. I had already read the file and I had a good idea what was going to happen.)

The second woman was deaf and did not speak. I'm not being ugly in this representation of her actions but it was clear by the way she was signing and the faces she was making that she was very angry. She signed the appoint form, albeit unhappily - at least in the beginning.

In both of these cases, I read the file and felt that there was cause for concern regarding the prosecution. I approached the prosecutor, discussed the situation. In one, a call was made to the complainant. In both, a lower ranked prosecutor consulted with the chief and in both - the cases were dismissed.

Of course, upon presentation of the dismissals, it is all smiles & nods & thank yous. With the second woman who suffered from a disability, I accept that she lives in a world that is already difficult, particularly when it comes to understanding her and her understanding others. She was much nicer. I shook her hand and wished her well.

The first woman, whose mouth got her into the situation at least to a certain degree in the first place, had made all kinds of comments as I tried to get her to sign the appointment sheet about all the lawyers she had talked to, who she was going to sue, blah, blah, blah. When I handed her the dismissal, she thanked me and reached out as if to hug me. Uh, I don't think so. You know, I was happy to get the righteous ending of that case. But, I was not happy for her. In fact, at that minute, I did not care about her. I cared about justice. I cared that the prosecutors were fair and not blinded by her outbursts, and I cared that the judge in that court is always concerned about doing the right thing in my experience. But for that person who was rude, obnoxious, and essentially talked her way into an arrest - I was just glad to get that case off MY docket.

The point is while she may have gotten to the same conclusion some time in the future - maybe - she did much better to have an attorney represent her than she would have done to defend herself. I got done in less than 20 minutes (most of it convincing her to sign the dang appointment form), what probably would have taken many settings to do - if she ever could.

You have a constitutional right to represent yourself but as the saying goes, "only a fool has him or herself as their lawyer." Lawyer up.


  1. Wasn't there a phrase something like "A lawyer who defends himself has a fool for a client." I would add, a non-lawyer who defends himself has an idiot for a client. Sorry you have to be exposed to such unhappy people but glad that you were able to help them. :)

  2. Lawyer up is right. Way to go Cynthia!

  3. Never put both feet in your mouth at the same time, because then you will not have a leg to stand on.............................................

  4. pleasure to find such a good artical! please keep update!! ........................................


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