Facing criminal charges is something you should never do alone. But unless you know what you're up against, it can be easy to make the decision to forgo an attorney to save some money, especially if you're facing potentially steep fines. If you are considering representing yourself in court, consider these eight fundamentals of criminal defense first.
1. Say Goodbye to Your Free Time
Defending yourself against criminal charges is time-consuming. Between researching defenses, gathering evidence, and attending hearings, expect your charges to eat up a lot of your free time. Unless you have the time to put into it, you might be tempted to plead guilty just to get the whole thing over with. Indeed, many people make this mistake only to realize they will have to deal with the consequences (a criminal conviction) for the rest of their life.
2. Forget About Favors
Defense attorneys usually have either been prosecuting attorneys or have worked with them extensively. As a “pro se” defendant, you won't have that professional networking behind your belt that could benefit you. For example, if you hire a defense attorney who has handled dozens of cases in the same courtroom with the same prosecution, chances are more likely he or she will be able to negotiate a good deal for you. Your chances of doing the same as someone who lacks that experience are practically zero.
3. Get Ready for Paperwork
Many people don't realize the legal field revolves around paperwork. Forms and documents are required for just about everything. And those forms can change ever so slightly each year, which means you always have to be working with the most updated form. Even just subpoenaing a witness to testify, you will be inundated with forms and must follow exacting protocol for process service. Otherwise, kiss your testimony goodbye.
4. Break Out Your Good Suit
Appearing in court is stressful. You've waited weeks or months for a few minutes before the judge that may decide on your future. To say criminal court hearings are high stakes is an understatement. Make sure you have a good suit that's clean, fits well, and is in good condition. You might also want to invest in a briefcase to stay organized in court. Also, don't overlook the importance of grooming. You should go to every court appearance ready to make a good impression.
5. Expect to Make Mistakes
Unless you're an attorney yourself, you can expect to make a few mistakes when handling your case. Some judges and prosecutors frown upon pro se defendants because they frequently make mistakes that can, ultimately, prolong the case. Things like the rules of the court and the procedures for filing certain motions can be incredibly complex and don't expect the judge or prosecutor to be understanding or go easy on you because you don't have an attorney. Even in the criminal court system, time is money. And if you don't know what you're doing, you can waste both.
6. Brush Up on Your Public Speaking Skills
To successfully represent yourself in your criminal case, you will have to be able to clearly articulate yourself and present a compelling legal argument both in court and out. Unless you can confidentially make your claim and back it up, you might not get the results you want. The presentation does matter in criminal cases.
7. Do Your Homework
Find your library card, and get ready to hit the books. To represent yourself, you'll want to learn everything about the legal code(s) that applies in your case. Also, review case histories to get an idea of the outcomes in cases similar to yours. Lastly, you might need to do some research on specific pieces of evidence. For example, DUI cases involve a lot more science than you'd expect, so get ready to do a little math if you are representing yourself.
8. Think Big Picture
Every criminal case is different, which is why you can't fully prepare yourself just by reading articles or case histories. The best defense comes from years of experience handling similar cases. Criminal defense attorneys consider the big picture when trying to get the best outcome for their client. A good outcome for one client might not be a good outcome for another. You have to consider what outcome you really want and determine your chance of obtaining it to successfully represent yourself. Often, a good outcome is one that will resolve the case quickly while minimizing the negative consequences of the charge, which will look different in every case. Also, you'll want a plan B in case your ideal outcome doesn't happen.
Speak with a seasoned California criminal defense attorney if you are thinking about representing yourself. A simple consultation can provide you with the information you need to make informed decisions in your case, including the decision to hire counsel or not.
Facing criminal charges is stressful, but attorney Christopher Martens and his legal team can help. Experienced in criminal defense, our Visalia area legal team can advocate on your behalf in court and aggressively fight your charges. Attorney Martens has over ten years experience in criminal defense working in Tulare, Fresno, and Kings County and won't be afraid to take your case all the way to trial. Call our Visalia or Hanford, CA offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] for a free consultation.