Can you represent yourself in criminal court? If so, should you?
In the case of criminal defense representation, can and should are two very different questions.
While you can choose to represent yourself in a North Carolina court of law, this does not mean that self-representation is the best choice. In fact, in many cases, well-meaning criminal defendants can shoot themselves in the foot by choosing to go it alone.
Here, we discuss the most common risks of appearing “pro se” or on your own behalf in a North Carolina criminal case.
- You might incriminate yourself.
An experienced criminal defense attorney knows how to interrogate witnesses and plead a client’s case without saying anything that might harm the client. Trials can get very emotional, especially when you appear on your own behalf. In attempting to represent himself, a defendant appearing pro se might make the mistake of bringing up information that actually hurts his case or seriously damages his chances of prevailing.
- Your lack of knowledge of the law or the criminal system can cost you the case.
Most pro se defendants lack the legal knowledge required to argue their cases. The criminal process is complex and knowing how it works often means the difference between winning and losing a case.
- Poor argument skills could be your downfall.
Knowing the law is not enough to win a case. A pro se defendant also has to persuade the judge or jury that he is not guilty. This requires excellent communication, persuasion, and argument skills, which many people do not possess.
- Not knowing the courtroom rules is risky.
It is not just the law that a pro se defendant must know: you must also understand and follow the rules of the court. A judge will not help a pro se defendant just because they are not an attorney. You will be expected to know the rules and not knowing is risky.
- You might cause unnecessary delays.
Lastly, self-representation often causes delays in the trial. A defendant’s lack of familiarity with the court rules and procedures can cause unnecessary delays in a case. Especially if you are incarcerated while awaiting trial, any delays can have a real impact on your freedom. That is not something you want to chance.