Here in Minnesota and across the country, defendants are better suited to hire an attorney rather than represent themselves. For example, a man charged with numerous drug offenses told the court this month that he would be representing himself. According to The Daily News, the man had a high school-equivalent degree and no legal training. Taking part in everything from jury selection to closing arguments, the man invoked his constitutional rights to decline a court-appointed attorney. His only witness was himself.
It took only 15 minutes for a jury to convict him of criminal charges including drug possession and three counts of dealing meth in a school zone.
Self-representation in all types of litigation is on the rise, according to the National Center for State Courts. In some situations, such as in domestic relations cases, the NCSC points out that simpler forms and court-sponsored legal advice has enabled people to successfully represent themselves.
When it comes to criminal cases, however, those who wish to proceed “pro se,” or on their own behalf, should keep in mind it can be risky due to the following:
- There is often a lot at stake in a criminal case, including consequences such as jail time, fines and probation.
- Courts treat people who defend themselves the same way as those with attorneys.
- Laws and precedents surrounding criminal charges can be complex, and making a mistake in this area could be costly.
The Minnesota Judicial Branch requires that people who choose to represent themselves know and follow court rules. According to a report from the American Bar Association that studied self-representation in Utah, judges frequently run into issues with people who decline to use an attorney. These people often do not understand procedural rules, fail to bring evidence or witnesses to court and even refuse the court’s ruling.
The right to an attorney
There are several reasons that people choose to represent themselves, one of which is that they cannot afford counsel. The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides that defendants facing felony charges who cannot secure a lawyer on their own will be granted a court-appointed attorney. Those who face a misdemeanor charge, however, are not extended that right.
Another common reason people choose to represent themselves is because they do not trust the court-appointed attorney. The Sixth Amendment also guarantees people the right of effective assistance of counsel, which means that the lawyer must be competent and provide reasonable professional help. There are instances in which a person convicted of a charge has successfully claimed ineffective assistance of counsel, garnering a new trial or, in some cases, dismissing the case altogether. According to the Minnesota Judicial Branch, it is important for people to consult with an attorney prior to making a decision regarding their legal representation.