Ask anyone who has been to court- legal battles don’t come cheap.
Of all the costs involved, hiring a lawyer is often a real financial struggle for many defendants.
Indeed, it’s known that approximately 80% of state criminal defendants can’t afford counsel.
That’s troubling news considering the crucial role they can play. The legal system is complex; having an expert to guide you through proceedings is invaluable.
With limited funds and no access to state-provided counsel, it’s tempting for defendants to try and represent themselves. Unfortunately, that can have some troubling consequences.
Are you going to court and considering this approach? You might want to think twice.
Keep reading to discover the potential downsides of representing yourself in court.
1. Legal Ignorance
Lawyers are the experts of the legal world.
It’s highly unlikely that you have anywhere near as much insight into the legal system. Lawyers spend their entire lives immersed in it! They understand the systems and processes in place. They’re trained to know the law, speak to judges, appeal to juries, and so on.
You, simply, are not.
Representing yourself means missing out on their expertise. Your ignorance could be your downfall in a high stakes situation.
Think about surgeons. They’re the experts of the medical operating world. Would you ever choose to operate on yourself instead of going to a surgeon? Probably not, right?
2. Rights Remain Unknown
Legal ignorance can have all sorts of negative implications.
Failing to fully understand your legal rights is one particular example.
It’s an attorney’s job to know your rights and fight for them on your behalf. Without that support, it’s entirely up to you. All too often, rights can be infringed upon without you realizing.
After all, you’re no legal expert!
Your rights may be violated before your very eyes, without you fully realizing it. Attorneys on the opposite side of the court may be less inclined to share this information.
3. The Stakes Are High
It’s worth re-emphasizing the fact that you have a lot on the line.
The implication of losing a court battle can be extreme.
Defendants can end up incarcerated for significant periods of time, or pay large sums of money.
Likewise, someone doing the suing (without representation) risks financial losses too. Sure, you can take an individual to court. But if you lose, then you can end up paying their legal fees, as well as any other potential costs. This can end up as an enormous financial burden for years into the future.
In a high stakes environment, it’s always preferable to have an expert on your side.
4. Difficulty Staying Focused
Representing yourself in court means you’re client and attorney.
You take on both roles.
That, in itself, can be a challenging dual-role to carry out appropriately. You’ll be talking to the judge and appealing to the jury.
It would be completely understandable for someone to become frustrated throughout proceedings. When everything seems against you, it’s difficult to remain focused and in control of your emotions. But remaining calm is crucial if you’re going to make your case effectively.
Feeling the pressure in a novel setting, with a lot on the line, is a recipe of poor-performance. Having an attorney to manage proceedings means you can, to an extent, relax.
Playing the attorney means that complete concentration is essential.
5. Juries Enjoy Suits
Jury trials are a particularly difficult arena in which to represent yourself.
Because juries are fickle. They’re tasked with remaining impartial. But it’s natural for them to swing and sway in line with their perceptions of the defendants and attorneys. Their response to a professional attorney may be entirely different to an individual in an orange jumpsuit.
First impressions count. Taking the stand and coming across poorly can be detrimental to your pursuit.
It’s important to be trained for the occasion; to know what questions to expect and prepare accordingly. This is something lawyers will help you with.
Going solo makes it a more difficult hurdle to navigate. Jury opinion can vary accordingly.
6. Negotiating Plea Bargains Will be Harder
You’re less likely to be able to negotiate a plea bargain without hiring a lawyer (like a car accident lawyer).
These bargains entail a defendant pleading guilty. However, they do so in return for a reduced charge and a better sentence.
They aren’t always possible. But when they are on the table it usually requires an attorney to negotiate with the prosecution. A lawyer will have a better understanding of what constitutes a good deal; they’ll make recommendations accordingly.
Even getting to the negotiation table in the first place may be helped by having an attorney.
7. Potential Court Bias
It shouldn’t be the case.
However, lawyers and judges can often be immediately biased against you for representing yourself.
That’s because it can slow down the court proceedings. You lack the knowledge and insight; legal lingo isn’t in your vocabulary; you aren’t part of the legal circle.
We’ve already mentioned the potential bias against you from a jury perspective: appearances matter! Being forced to represent yourself paints a particular picture from the very outset.
Some judges will have different perspectives. In some situations, they may even be biased in your favor! That’s far from guaranteed though. Another judge may be altogether less accommodating purely because you can’t afford an attorney.
Final Thoughts on Representing Yourself in Court
There you have it: some of the main dangers of representing yourself in court.
Court battles are rarely inexpensive. Unfortunately, the financial requirements mean hiring counsel simply isn’t possible. Other people have more of a choice, yet see the appeal to self-representation nonetheless.
After all, it’s definitely the cheaper option (upfront, at least).
Alas, as we’ve seen, representing yourself comes with its own set of challenges. The decision to move forward without a lawyer can end up costing you dearly, in a number of serious ways.
Hopefully, this post has provided food for thought when considering representing yourself.
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