Some people may feel the urge to represent themselves in their legal cases due to their naivete, financial problems, or other reasons. However, you have to keep in mind that regardless of your innocence, you have to prove it and defend yourself against the charges.
Though you have the right to represent yourself, aside from knowing your rights and other laws, there are many state and local court rules that you must adhere to. You need to follow these rules when appearing before the court, otherwise, they might affect your case. The legal paperwork is also extensive and hard to prepare for someone unfamiliar with the legal profession. According to Weber Law, court staff cannot give you any legal advice or help you out if your paperwork isn’t filled correctly.
Before trying to represent yourself, you should strongly consider hiring a lawyer or at least accept a public defender. This way, you have considerably higher chances of having your charges dropped or receiving a reduced sentence. However, if you still wish to proceed and represent yourself in a criminal trial, here is some advice.
Begin Your Documentation & Prepare Your Files
Before representing yourself before the court, you should study the state and local court rules. You can find them in your state’s administrative office on the court’s website. In most cases, many of the forms you are required to fill out are available online.
Please read all the form instructions with great care because, as stated above, it is your responsibility to know what to file and why, and the court staff are prohibited from helping you out. Any mistakes can affect your case or drag out the proceedings for an extended time.
You can handwrite these forms, but ensure that all your documents are complete, legible, and comply with the court rules. If you study the court rules, you will be able to learn how to request or schedule hearings as well.
The documents you file will be your means of communication about your case with the court and the judge or magistrate. Direct contact with the magistrate or the judge outside of a formal hearing or trial is not allowed, and you should refrain from doing so. When your case begins, you will receive a case number. It is very important to memorize it because each time you contact the court, you will be asked for your case number.
Make Copies of Your Documents
An essential tip when representing yourself in a criminal trial is to keep a “date-stamped” copy of everything you file with the court. This is to show when you filed the original. Every document you file with the court needs to be copied several times because you will also need to give everyone involved with your case these copies.
During your case, it’s best to be as organized as possible. You have to write down exactly what you want and why. You will receive several questions while your case is ongoing. This, coupled with all the documentation and emotional stress you will have to go through, can be, at times, overwhelming.
Because of this, you should always make some notes that can help you out when the court requires answers from you. Make sure that your answers are clear and quick to address the issues.
Having adequate copies of documents and evidence is crucial. You should also carefully prepare your questions for the witnesses because they play a vital role in your case. You must also ensure that your witnesses are ready to appear at the right place and time. Coordinating those issues might be the most challenging part of any proper defense.
However, no matter what happens, you must keep your composure throughout court processes. You don’t want to lose focus on what’s going on or give up without a proper fight. One good tip is to practice at home with friends and family to get accustomed to the procedures.
Visit the Courthouse and Learn
One of the best ways to learn how to represent yourself in a criminal trial is to visit the courthouse and analyze a case similar to yours. You can also visit the courthouse during any trial or hearing to get more accustomed to the rules and see how things unfold. You can also watch some online cases and see how they unfold.
It is important to be honest with yourself about your “pro se” (proceeding without a lawyer) decision. In Washington, you have to inform the court in time about this decision. You will also need time to prepare yourself reasonably.
You cannot be unsure about your decision because the judge may deny your request. You also need to have a minimum understanding of the charges against you. You also need to be aware of the maximum punishment you may face if convicted. The judge will analyze your request and either deny or approve it. Your request has to meet the following criteria:
- Knowing and intelligent
Criminal defendants can proceed without a lawyer in their case after the colloquy. In this phase, the judge will ask you a lot of questions to determine if you understand the risks of proceeding without a lawyer. Some of the things that the judge will check include your education, prior experience with the criminal justice system, court rules, and mental health.
Always arrive early if you proceed without a lawyer. Always try to account for traffic or other unexpected events and arrive as soon as possible before you are scheduled. Everything you do, how you behave, and even how you dress will be considered and can be interpreted positively or negatively. Dress conservatively and, most importantly, in a respectful manner.