Should You Represent Yourself In Criminal Court?
The 6th Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees that all persons accused of criminal acts have the right to the assistance of counsel. The Courts have interpreted this guarantee to include the right of the accused to represent themselves at trial (Faretta v. California (1975) 422 U.S. 806).
Despite non-attorneys' limited understanding of the criminal court system, many opt to represent themselves at trial. The reasons people decide to represent themselves include dissatisfaction with appointed counsel, frustration with the overall process, or feeling like they have been through the system enough times that they might as well try it on their own. Whatever the reason a person has chosen as to why they want represent themselves the answer is always, without question, that it is a bad idea for several reasons.
First of all, they don't know what it is they are supposed to be doing to their own hurt. People who are accused of criminal behavior generally know very little about the procedures of criminal court, and even for those who have the unfortunate experience of having been through the process more than once, they have only a cursory understanding of the court system. Additionally, the practice of law, like any other profession or trade, includes unique vocabulary and procedures that non-attorneys are not familiar with, which will lead to interruptions and delays in the court process while the self-represented person struggles to figure out what is being said and what is going on. To put it in perspective, it is like a person deciding to perform heart surgery on themselves. The potential of irreparably damaging their case is immense.
Secondly, it means that the self-represented person will not avail themselves of all of their defenses. Attorneys are trained in the art of representing clients at trial. Often this means that the they are in court every day, continually interacting with all of the players in the courthouse, and experienced with defending all kinds of different criminal charges. It is the job of the attorneys to not only find all of the applicable defenses available, but to know how to negotiate the best that they can for their clients. With this regard, self-represented persons put themselves at a huge disadvantage.
Finally, it is a waste the everyone's time, the court's and the accused's. Contrary to Attorney Google, the internet, or "friends" who have been through the system before, a California criminal case is not impacted, at all, by the UCC, the Law of the Sea, British Common Law, or any of a whole host of supposed obscure legal sources. As eloquent as an arguments based on non-California criminal law sources may be, it isn't going to accomplish anything except waste time. In addition, not everything the self-represented seeks a motion to the court is actually a motion, and the request may not only be denied, but may result in sanctions if the request is deemed frivolous.
Again, it is a very bad idea to represent yourself in criminal court. This warning is given by the judge to any person who asks to represent themselves, and with good reason, such representation rarely, if ever, succeeds to the benefit of the person. Someone who has the idea of representing themselves should do themselves a favor and hire an attorney to advocate for them That's what attorneys like us are here for, and that is how they can reach the best possible outcome in their case.