Criminal appellants who act as their own attorneys were much less likely to secure an appellate reversal of their convictions or sentences than those with attorneys in both 2013 and 2007.
An individual non-lawyer litigant is free to represent himself or herself in any case (civil, criminal, or extraordinary relief). We call that pro se (Latin "on one's own behalf") or self-representation. People often wonder whether it is wise to represent themselves; here is the data from which such a decision can be made. I examine every appeal filed in Cincinnati (among other court systems) to determine what type of case was involved and the outcomes. My goal is to identify strategies and tactics which win on appeal. I have examined 2007 and 2013 appeals in the First Appellate District of Ohio; the outcomes may be of interest.
2013 appeals in Cincinnati
In 2013 in the Cincinnati Court of Appeals there were a total of 475 appeals of criminal cases. Twenty-seven of those 475 total cases were by people representing themselves. Of those twenty-seven pro se cases, six resulted in the conviction and sentence being affirmed, 20 were dismissed or post-conviction appeals denied, and one was modified by the court of appeals because the trial court had not addressed post-release control and license suspension (the court of appeals noted that because the defendant had already been released from prison it was too late to impose either sanction). Considering that to be a win for the pro se appellant leaves a reversal rate of 4%.
Subtracting those pro se cases from the 475 criminal appeals that year leaves a total of 448 cases in which the appellants were represented by attorneys. Of those, 267 resulted in the trial court decisions being affirmed, 78 reversed, and 103 dismissed or denied; that leaves the reversal rate for attorneys at 17.4%.
2007 appeals in Cincinnati
In 2007, of the total of 606 criminal appeals filed, there were 113 criminal pro se appeals. Of those, 32 were affirmed, 78 were dismissed (many for failing to secure the transcripts, to file the docket statement or brief, or for being attempts at late direct appeals, and one in which the defendant died pending the appeal); one appeal was voluntarily dismissed by the pro se appellant. In two cases the decisions of the trial court were reversed on the merits and nine required resentencing of issues other than those raised by the appellants (most for failure of the trial court to impose post-release control). Thus only two of 113 criminal pro se appeals succeeded - that is a 1.8% reversal rate.
On the other hand, there were 493 appeals in which the appellant had attorney representation. Of those 493 appeals, in 2007 there were 356 affirmed, 76 reversed, and 108 dismissed. That leaves a reversal rate in 2007 of 15.4%.
Appellants represented by attorneys did significantly better on appeal than those who represented themselves. This is not surprising given the complexity of the issues. But not everyone can afford an attorney despite earning too much to qualify for a public defender. For those people there is still hope - the Court of Appeals does its best to do the right thing even when there is no lawyer.
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