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Representing Yourself in Court: A Few Pros and Cons

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

Representing yourself in court may seem like an attractive option, but you should weigh the pros and cons before stepping into court on your own.

While not hiring an attorney for your criminal case may save you money and give you a sense of pride, you leave yourself -- a rank amateur -- to navigate the legal corridors of the criminal justice system. And if you falter, it won't just be embarrassing; it may cost you your freedom.

Consider these pros and cons before choosing to represent yourself in criminal court:

  • Know someone who has been arrested or charged with a crime? Get in touch with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney in your area today.

Pro: You Can Save Money.

Many criminal defense attorneys will expect you to pay a certain amount up front before taking your case. Many attorneys will have flexible payment options as part of their fee agreements, but nothing will be free -- unless you can get a public defender. Representing yourself is the least expensive option, though you will stay have to pay certain court costs and filing fees.

Con: There's No Buffer Between You and the Court.

When you represent yourself, you act as both lawyer and client, speaking directly to the judge and jury. An attorney can insulate you from many of the frustrating things that occur during your criminal trial, keeping you from saying something stupid or offensive to a judge. The jury can see your attorney as a professional person in a suit and the embodiment of your case, even if you're still in an orange jumpsuit.

Pro: You Get Your Day in Court.

Many defendants feel they need their "day in court" -- a moment to really speak their minds about the case and their feelings. While your attorney can't stop you from testifying, it's your Fifth Amendment right; you'll be much freer to speak without an attorney at your side. Just try not to use too many F-bombs.

You likely aren't an attorney, nor have you attended law school. An attorney, on the other hand, has the training and experience to know what you should and shouldn't be worried about, often before the court or prosecution mentions it. Without an attorney, you'll be a babe in the woods, and if you screw up, you'll have no one to blame but yourself.

Con: You May Not Be Able to Negotiate a Plea Deal.

In practical terms, you can't negotiate a plea deal without an attorney, so you'll be stuck with whatever outcome you can garner in court.

Weigh these factors carefully when deciding to represent yourself; this is not a decision to be taken lightly.

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