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The Risks of Self-Representation in Criminal Cases

With the wealth of information on the internet about virtually anything you could possibly want to know, it’s usually a good idea to take advantage of it and do some easy, affordable research to move your project du jour forward. But this approach is not usually the best one when it comes to preparing to represent yourself in a criminal defense matter. While the internet can provide some good, high-level information to help you better understand aspects of your criminal case, sole reliance on it to prepare you to defend your own case comes with serious risks. In this article, we explore some of the risks of self-representation in criminal cases.

Risks of Self-Representation

Relying on the WWW (Wild Wild Web) for Legal Information and Advice

While you are sure to find lots of legal information on the internet, often from reputable law firm blogs like ours, there are usually limitations to what such information can do for you when it comes to the preparation of your own criminal defense. Sure, you can read articles about relevant law, penalties, and defenses from big names such as FindLaw and Nolo, this is no substitute for actual legal advice. Companies and law firms providing this sort of information are also sure to remind you that such information is NOT legal advice and shouldn’t be relied on for that purpose.

The reality is that any particular criminal matter will not only involve application of the law, but also a deep understanding of the facts of the case and a strategic approach to presenting those facts in a defense proceeding. Information presented online cannot consider the facts of any individual criminal case. So, whatever takeaway a reader might have from reviewing legal articles, it cannot possibly include the strategic perspective brought to the table by an experienced criminal defense attorney who has also examined the facts of your case.

Another risk of relying solely on the web for legal research is that published information can becomes stale and out of date. Laws change, both through legislation and case law, and not all websites will update their content to reflect all such changes. This means you risk relying on incorrect propositions of law for the defense of your case. A related problem is not recognizing differences in the law among different states. It’s easy to find high-level legal information about certain crimes, for instance, but the information is generic. It may be largely accurate as to many state jurisdictions, but not necessarily all. Again, the law of your state may not accurately be reflected in what you read online. Suddenly, the risks of self-representation start to add up quickly.

The Risks of Self-Representation in Court

Another aspect of self-representation to consider is how cases are actually presented in court. Do you know the rules of criminal procedure? Do you know how to approach the judge and other officers of the court? While we’ve all seen different court dramas play out on television, reality usually looks different from the fiction playing out on our screens. Unless you’ve actually got experience appearing in court, filing documents with the court, etc., the stress alone of figuring this part out could derail an otherwise decent defense. And you can lose a lot of credibility with a jury when it’s clear you don’t have your act together in the court room. This can seriously hurt your chances of getting a good result.

Would you be able to respond to unanticipated legal arguments asserted by prosecutors in the court room? Chances are that unless you are an experienced criminal defense attorney familiar with the law in your state, you’d be unable to whip up an appropriate, professional, and legally accurate and strategic response in the moment. Again, the brilliant defense you thought you’d put together can quickly become unraveled before your very eyes.

What’s at Stake in Self-Representation?

Those people who choose to represent themselves in their own criminal matters are often motivated by money. Sure, hiring a lawyer to represent you can be expensive. Lots of people feel they simply can’t afford to hire a lawyer, so they forgo that option. But these days, there are many different options available for paying legal fees, obtaining true legal advice from a lawyer, and even representing yourself in more minor matters while still getting the benefit of some legal assistance. For instance, at NGP we offer various do-it-yourself packages that provide legal assistance and even advice from a lawyer, but still enable you to put your best foot forward in taking on a smaller case yourself. This can be a fine way to navigate your own less serious criminal matter when funds are tight.

Of course, when serious penalties involving jail or prison time and monetary fines are involved, the consequences of not retaining an attorney to represent you can be disastrous. A failed pro se (representing yourself) criminal defense involving more serious crimes can literally mean the difference between freedom and imprisonment. And if you think you had money issues before that, think again. Many crimes can carry fines that are in the 5, 6, and 7-figure dollar range. As you step back and take it all in, the risks of self-representation loom large. When you consider that your freedom and entire financial future may be on the line, hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney is your best bet.

Need Legal Help?

If you are in need of criminal defense or family law help and you don’t want to shoulder the risks of self-representation alone, consider reaching out to Nicol Gersch Petterson for a free 30-minute consultation. Find more information at https://CoLawTeam.com or call 970.670.0378.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: This blog post does not create an attorney-client relationship. It’s a blog post and not legal advice. Each case is different, and this post is meant for generalized knowledge, only. If you haven’t signed an engagement letter (or even received an engagement letter) AND issued some form of payment (peanuts do not count), then no attorney-client relationship exists. Nevertheless, we will do our best to ensure your confidentiality should you choose to contact us privately, but do not post about your case in the comments here (because reaching out for help with your case should be confidential, damn it).

If you have done both of the things mentioned earlier–signed a letter and paid us–then, and only then, you might be a client. But merely chatting with us online does not a client make. Suffice it to say, if you aren’t absolutely certain about whether or not an attorney-client relationship exists between yourself and Nicol Gersch Petterson, you should probably ask for some clarity. Until then, we’ll keep your secrets but we don’t formally represent you… YET.