The dangers of representing yourself in a criminal case

There are many disadvantages in representing yourself, especially in criminal cases.

When people in Hayward find themselves charged with committing a crime, they may be tempted to try to represent themselves in court. The reasons for this decision may be grounded in the desire to save money on a legal defense team, or the belief that the person is smarter than experienced attorneys and therefore can put together his or her own defense.

Emotional involvement

The criminal justice system is based on clear, analytical thought and facts; it does not respond well to peoples' feelings. The American Bar Association points out that people are often emotionally involved in their own case. This is understandable, given that their future is at stake and in a case involving a felony offense like drug trafficking or the murder of someone they know, they are facing several years in prison if they lose. This emotion can interfere with their ability to make sound decisions.

Lack of experience

People who are thinking about defending themselves in a criminal court should take a moment to consider who they will be going up against. Prosecutors often have years of experience in the courtroom and they will not take it easy on people who are representing themselves. This can leave people at a disadvantage since they are not familiar with the prosecutor's tactics and questioning strategy. They also will not know how to correctly cross-examine witnesses or identify flaws in testimony.

No knowledge of the criminal justice system

Legal representation involves more than just putting together a defense plan. Experienced and knowledgeable attorneys have an understanding of the protocols used in the courtroom, the time limits for filing briefs and motions, and how the plea bargaining process works. They are also familiar with the investigative techniques used by law enforcement, and use this knowledge as part of the defense strategy. For example, sometimes officers fail to follow established policies in collecting evidence and this can result in a judge ruling the evidence as inadmissible.

In charges involving sexual offenses, violent crimes and fraud, many attorneys have a network of professionals including experts in DNA analysis, scientists with a background in biological evidence and even trained investigators who know how to search for additional witnesses or evidence that could prove the person is innocent.

Denying yourself constitutional rights

Under the U.S. Constitution, people are entitled to legal counsel. This is why people are assigned a public defense attorney if they can't afford their own. Giving up that right can create additional challenges and if they are convicted of the crime, they can't use their self-representation as a defense in an appeal.

A higher chance of losing the case

The Judicial Branch of California states that the biggest risk of self-representation is that people have a much higher chance that they could lose their case. A conviction for a criminal offense comes with severe penalties that can include time in prison, thousands of dollars in fines and restitution fees, a criminal record, and creates challenges in holding a job and supporting oneself. Therefore, people should seriously consider meeting with a criminal defense attorney rather than take such a heavy task on their own shoulders.