How to Defend Yourself in a Criminal Case
There are various reasons why an individual charged in a criminal case might choose to forego the services of a criminal case attorney. While law firms such as Saller, Lord, Ersentberger & Insley can offer several of the best criminal defense attorneys in Baltimore, there are times when the severity of the punishment from a crime is not large enough for some people to warrant the cost of an attorney.
No matter if the crime’s punishment or other factors come into play, choosing to represent one’s self in a criminal case has pros and cons that should all be considered. From understanding why someone may forgo an assault attorney, to learning how to represent yourself for the best chance at a win, we break down the various components you should consider if you want to represent yourself as your own criminal case attorney.
Reasons Why You May Opt for Self-Representation Over Hiring a Criminal Case Attorney
1. If the punishment of your crime is straightforward and doesn’t often change from case to case, you may decide you are fine taking the punishment as it is.
2. Some people are uncomfortable working with lawyers, as they view them as part of the current problem in the legal system and view lawyers as corrupt. Unfortunately, this stereotype will do little good for a defendant, particularly because when you choose to represent yourself you often do so with little knowledge of how to properly represent your case before a judge or court.
3. If a defendant is already incarcerated they may be motivated to speak in their own defense through self-representation because they can gain access to a jail or prison’s library to look up the particulars that are needed to defend themselves in a reasonable manner.
4. An oddity of the legal system that also serves as a boon and detriment to a defendant representing themselves is the fact that unlike lawyers, you as your own representative are not bound by a strict code of ethics that dictates how you may behave in the courtroom. What this means is that a defendant representing themselves can file motion after motion and become a general nuisance while not breaking their own ethics. However, this is not a method that is recommended since it can turn the court against you very quickly.
What to Know About Representing Yourself in a Criminal Case to Be Your Best Criminal Defense Attorney
In choosing to be your own representative you are typically taking your own fate into your hands, literally. In some cases, however, it can make sense versus hiring an assault attorney or other lawyer.
What will make the biggest difference in whether defending yourself is the best choice or not is the severity of the crime and what the punishment is. Traffic offenses are a good example of when it is perfectly fine for you to represent yourself in court. However, if you’re facing charges with violent offenses, such as assault and battery, you might want to retain the services of a criminal case attorney. It might even be a good idea to retain the services of an assault attorney that might be well-versed in the laws of the county and state and has a good deal of experience overseeing such cases.
There are crimes that typically come with lesser sentences and may seem like easy cases to represent yourself, but some of these have major repercussions down the line.
A good example, once again, is traffic violations. Traffic violations can lead to an increase in one’s insurance rates, possible suspension of driving privileges, and even the loss of a license if the defendant is a repeat offender.
Some traffic violations even come with jail time, community service, and/or heavy fines for those that continue to break the law. Standard punishment that occurs during a first offense tends to become more severe with repeat offenses, as it indicates that the defendant is considered to be a habitual lawbreaker and as a result will be given a heavier sentence with each repetition of their crime.
In repeat traffic violation cases, it is often wise to understand how the punishment will increase, and weigh the pros and cons of retaining the services of a skilled criminal case attorney, or if you can continue to represent yourself with any hope of success.
Understand How Different Criminal Cases are Handled
Knowing what the punishment will be for the crime you’ve been charged with is important when determining whether to defend yourself or if it might be time to start contacting criminal case attorneys to see who might offer the best defense possible.
The problem, of course, is that learning about common sentencing practices is a bit more difficult than it sounds. Many statutes aren’t simply listed online, though there are states that do have what is known as determinate sentencing laws – such laws allow defendants to learn of the specific sentences that each crime might carry with it. For example, you may be able to learn how many years each crime will come with. Thanks to this determinate sentencing laws, defendants can make a more informed decision as to whether or not they will need an attorney at their side.
In other states, however, indeterminate sentencing laws allow a judge to determine a period of time that a defendant will serve, for example, ten to twenty years for a serious offense. In this case, you might be released after the minimum period of time served if a parole board finds that you’ve been satisfactorily rehabilitated.
Of course, the goal of representing oneself, or seeking the aid of an attorney, is to serve little to no time for an offense. With the aid of a skilled criminal case attorney, it is possible to obtain a reduced or even suspended sentence, which is essentially a period of probation allowed by a judge before the defendant is expected to serve their sentence.
A Few Tips On How to Represent Yourself as Your Own Criminal Case Attorney in a Courtroom Setting
If you do decide to forgo hiring an assault attorney or other lawyer, it is important to know how to be the best criminal defense attorney you can be in order to reduce your charges as much as possible. Here are the recommended tips to always keep in mind when choosing to defend yourself in court.
1) Be on Time
Always show up to court on time. In a criminal case, it’s actually expected that a person will show up so many minutes before their scheduled time depending on the court. It’s wise to show up at least ten to fifteen minutes early in order to prepare yourself and get any pertinence evidence and notes squared away so that you can present a competent defense.
2) Be Courteous and Respectful
Do not walk into a courtroom thinking that you have an ironclad case to use in your defense. Experienced attorneys can shred a defense that’s ill-prepared and will do so if given a reason. Respect the prosecuting attorney, respect the courtroom, respect the bailiff, and above all, show plenty of deference and respect to the judge. Your sentence might hinge on your behavior, so it pays to be well-mannered in any courtroom.
3) Dress Professionally
In attempting to act as your own defense in a criminal case, it is important that you dress accordingly. A suit and tie are not hard to come by as thrift stores tend to carry several options that will be acceptable in a courtroom if money is an issue. You will be taken far more seriously by a judge and even a prosecutor if you are both courteous and well-dressed, as this indicates that you are taking the matter seriously.
Self-Representation Comes With a Lot of Risk in a Criminal Case
Representing yourself is a risky proposition for any individual depending on the severity of the crime, though it does come with the perk of knowing that not only are you saving a bit of money but that any decision made in your defense is on you and not dependent on someone else.
Unfortunately, this also carries a great deal of risk since criminal case attorneys are individuals that are trained and experienced in the ways of the court, experience the average citizen will not have upon entering a courtroom. You may save immediate money on a lawyer, but fines or jail time can have great financial impact if you lose your case in court.
Making the decision to self-represent is not one to be taken lightly and should be given a great deal of thought before a final decision is made. Obviously lesser crimes are bound to be less of a risk, but if a defendant is being tried with anything other than a repeated traffic violation it might be wise to seek the counsel and possibly the help of an experienced criminal case attorney that can help to better navigate the situation.
Many lawyers like Saller, Lord, Ernstberger & Insley offer a free consultation on any case, which can help you understand what you are up against and what your best route of action will be in order to achieve the most positive outcome for your circumstances.