With attorneys’ fees racking up, legal representation is becoming less affordable. As a result, millions of Americans every year consider representing themselves in court. So, while firing a lawyer and making the bold move of self-representation seems like an attractive option, is it wise?
It’s a no-brainer that forgoing an attorney for your court case can help you save for a rainy day. And, being a rank amateur navigating the legal corridors of the criminal justice system can boost your self-confidence. But, on the flip side, if you falter, it’ll not only be embarrassing but may also cost you your freedom.
So, “can I represent myself in court?” depends on your jurisdiction’s court rules and laws. Nonetheless, we’ll explore vital aspects to keep in mind before stepping into court on your own. Read on!
Understand the Law
Law isn’t a mandatory subject in schools, but more of a specialty. And, good books come at a price. But luckily, with the advent of technology, the Internet is your friend. You’ll find anything under the sun when it comes to law.
So, even though you’re not an attorney, you’re still required to abide by the same court rules and laws. Understanding the law that applies to your court case will shed light on the relevant issues to focus on. After all, the last thing you need is being laughed out of the courtroom.
Learn the Terms
Being well-versed in a subject is part of a real lawyer’s job. So, if you’re going to represent yourself in court, then you need to know the lingo. This entails taking the time to understand:
- What does pro se mean? – Pro se is a Latin word that means ‘on your own behalf.’ It’s, therefore, the legal action of self-representation in a court of law without any assistance from an attorney.
- Who is a pro se litigant? – If you choose to represent yourself in court without a lawyer, then you’re defined as a pro se litigant/ pro se defendant/ pro se plaintiff.
- Do you know your pro se litigant rights? – You need to know your rights as a pro se defendant or plaintiff before stepping into the courtroom. So, you’ll need to be well-versed in the pro se litigant guide. It’s packed with the ins and outs of pro se filing (self-representation).
Always Ask For Proof
If you’ve been unjustly put on the hook for something, there’s the likelihood that it’s just a mess-up. So, patiently and politely request for evidence then be on the lookout for loopholes in the case.
For instance, if you’ve been wrongly accused of theft from a shop at which you work, you can ask for the inventory records. And, keep in mind that lack of information is also an eye-opener.
If it’s a scenario whereby some witnesses at the scene weren’t questioned by police, this then provides uncertainty as to what happened. Copies of photographs, phone records, receipts, and other documentation are all key pieces of evidence that you need to have.
The Truth Will Set You Free
This adage has never been more suited than when you’re representing yourself in court. While it can be tempting to throw in a few white lies to boost the chances of the judgment being in your favor, honesty is the best policy.
More often than not, when you’re dishonest, you start fibbing which will be your undoing in court. Keeping up a lie in the face of evidence is an uphill battle. Sure, the truth may not always favor you. However, massaging the facts to suit your argument is the quickest road to disaster.
Play the System
Prosecutors work their fingers to the bone. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that they don’t have a fraction of the preparation time you’d assume for small cases. Police officers have a lot on their plate and aren’t always as handy to the prosecutors as you might imagine.
So, master the ins and outs of your case, be well-organized, and have the upper hand by knowing the possible outcomes. Moreover, be armed with a barrage of relevant questions to ask. You can go the extra mile by reading about cross-examination and critically analyzing your case theory.
Keep Your Audience in Mind
Magistrates are generally retirees with a staunch belief in law and order. They’re used to the moaning pleas of a boatload of defendants that think the court system has conspired to have them locked up.
A jury consists of regular members of the public that are simply abiding by what’s required of them. And, they’re wildly different audiences. So, tailor your remarks accordingly. Magistrates demand to be accorded the respect they deserve. Therefore, humility will go a long way for you.
Strike A Deal
Sometimes, the odds may be stacked against you. Conviction rates in a magistrate’s court are usually alarmingly high. Thus, before you decide to fight the case, tooth and nail, be practical about your likelihood of success.
So, striking a deal can be your saving grace given that a plethora of prosecutors usually accepts a bargain for a lesser charge. Your attorney would be involved in the discussions to strike a deal due to their uncanny ability to do so without any admissions of liability.
However, if you’re backed to a corner, you can politely and humbly approach the prosecutor to talk about your case. As you do so, keep in mind that anything you say can and will be used against you, so tread carefully.
Better Safe than Sorry
The law is intricate. Navigating a courtroom, along with the procedures tied to it is a daunting task, even for the seemingly simple matters. So, just because you’re capable of stepping into a courtroom and representing yourself doesn’t mean it’ll be smooth sailing.
The average person wouldn’t fix a leak in their home, perform surgery on their body, or cut their hair. They’d hire individuals skilled in these fields to do so; a plumber, barber, or surgeon. The same applies to legal matters. If you want to guarantee the best possible outcome, then an experienced attorney to represent you in court is the way to go.
Don’t let self-confidence become cockiness; consult with an expert lawyer.