Written by attorney Errol Lamont Cook

Don't represent yourself in criminal court

I have witnessed numerous defendants walk into court only to be escorted in handcuffs by the deputy to the custody tank because they thought they knew what they were doing. The problem that these defendants had is that they thought they knew the system. No one 'knows' the system. That's why it's called a "practice." Courtrooms have rules, but they are violated every day by attorneys and judges alike.

Rule #1: Don't try to go it alone at arraignment

Many defendants think that they will try it alone first and, if the 'offer' is bad, then they'll hire a lawyer. Although it seems logical, judges routinely set bail at arraignment. If the judge sets bail at $20,000...guess what. You are likely going to be taken into custody right there...with no chance to hire an attorney. Hire the lawyer first, so that you don't have to call collect from your jail cell to hire an attorney.

Rule #2: Judges and Prosecutors Don't like dealing with Pro se

Judges are very impatient when they have a large calendar of cases. A defendant who doesn't understand courtroom lingo or, even worse, thinks they understand the law is a nuisance to a judge. I've seen defendants read the Penal Code in front of the judge only to be verbally abused by the judge for their relative ignorance and arrogance.

Rule #3 You Probably Won't Get a Copy of the Police Report That Day

Yes, you're entitled to discovery as a pro-per, but the prosecutor isn't going to leave their busy calendar, redact the police report and make photo copies for you because you demand it.

Rule #4 Don't Think You'll be Finished Early

Private Attorneys and Public Defenders usually get priority. They have other cases and courts to attend to. Prosecutors don't routinely deal with pro-per litigants first. So, make sure you take the entire day off from your job.

Rule #5 The Prosecutor Can't Give you Legal Advice

I've heard prosecutors tell pro pers numerous times that they can't give legal advice. They legally can't, but sometimes they do. I heard one prosecutor tell a defendant that he has no defense (DUI) and that the offer won't get better. Note: the prosecutor didn't sit down with the defendant to go over the entire was just that prosecutor's opinion because they wanted to hurry up and finish the case.

There are so many things that can go wrong when you represent yourself. My last example is the fine. The judge may tell you the fine is $300 plus a penalty. You are thinking that a penalty may be $50 or so, right? Wrong! The penalty assessment can make that $300 turn into $1200 easy and it happens all of the time. So, sometimes hiring an attorney for a couple of appearances just to resolve your case is the best thing you can do for your freedom and your finances.

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