Do You Have A Right to Represent Yourself At Trial?

Do You Have A Right to Represent Yourself At Trial?

Under the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, you have the right to a lawyer in criminal cases. But you have the right to represent yourself, too. Choosing whether to represent yourself at trial is an important and complicated decision. And it’s not one that you should make lightly.

Do you have a right to represent yourself during a criminal trial?

Yes. The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives you the right to a lawyer in criminal cases. If you cannot afford an attorney, courts must provide one to you. But the Sixth Amendment also gives you the right to represent yourself.

If you represent yourself, you are a “pro se” litigant. The term “pro se” is Latin for “on one’s own behalf” or “for oneself.” This simply means that you will represent yourself in the case.

How do you waive your right to an attorney in a criminal case?

To waive your right to an attorney, a judge must determine that the decision was “knowingly” and “intelligently” made. For example, courts deny the request if they believe you are not competent to represent yourself. Courts also deny the request they believe your self-representation would be too disruptive.

When making this decision, courts consider many factors, including the following:

  • your age,
  • your education,
  • the seriousness of the crimes charged,
  • your familiarity with English and
  • any other relevant factors.

If the court has concerns about self-representation, they provide you with “standby counsel.” This means the lawyer will be present during your trial but won’t get involved unless they can help. If this happens, you still control how the case goes to the jury. The attorney should only help you understand courtroom procedures and protocols.

Image courtesy of digicomphoto on iStock via Getty Images.

Should you represent yourself at trial in a criminal case?

Maybe. Whether you should represent yourself or use an attorney is a complicated decision. And it’s one you should make on your own after considering everything involved. You may not agree with your attorney’s strategy. You also might not think your attorney knows everything they need to know for trial. But representing yourself can still be very challenging.

Do you know how to lay an adequate foundation for admitting evidence? Do you know what kind of evidence and testimony you have to give the prosecution a heads up about? Are you familiar with the courtroom procedures? These are only some of the questions to ask yourself while trying to decide.

On the other hand, you’re more likely to spend more time and effort on your case than anyone else. In many cases, self-representation may be cheaper, too. But your effort and the cost alone might not make up for your lack of legal knowledge and experience. Everyone should be careful when choosing whether to represent themselves in a criminal case.

The Takeaway:

You have the right to a lawyer in criminal cases under the Sixth Amendment. But you also have the right to represent yourself. As long as you “knowingly” and “intelligently” make that decision, a court should let you do so. When deciding whether to represent yourself, you should be very careful.

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