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Posted by attorney F. Powers

I have seen people try DIY or “Do-It-Yourself" representation in court. In North Carolina, you have an absolute right to serve as your own attorney. You also have the absolute right to give yourself a haircut.

Sometimes it works. . .sometimes the results are less than pleasing.

Given the economy, it's understandable why people go with the DIY option. Whether it's the need to save money or not qualifying as "indigent" or having a type of case that allows a Public Defender, some perceive it as the only choice.

In certain instances, a well-prepared "pro se" (for himself) Defendant may be able to handle a matter without the assistance of legal counsel. I've seen people try cases by themselves and have been amazed at their natural skils.

I've also seen good people go down in flames because they simply don't know what questions to ask or how to proceed in court. Frankly, as someone who cares about justice and fairness above all, sometimes pro se defense is hard to watch.

Top 10 Reasons to Retain an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney

10. Legal Advice & the Unauthorized Practice of Law

One common misconception people have is that someone in the court system, whether it be Prosecutor, Judge, Sheriff's Deputy or Clerk of Court will guide them as to what they need to say or do.

It makes sense. It shouldn't be hard. Experienced courtroom personnel likely could answer a simple legal question without difficulty or substantial burden. . .but they won't. In fact, people like Clerks of Court often times understand the intricacies of the system better than anyone else in the system.

They won’t provide legal counsel or advice, because they can't.

Under North Carolina law, only properly licensed attorneys may give legal advice. It's actually a criminal offense for people other than lawyers to give legal counsel. It's called the Unauthorized Practice of Law.

Judges cannot provide legal advice or opinions, as they are precluded under the cannons of North Carolina Judicial Standards.

Assistant District Attorneys or ADA's in North Carolina, serve to prosecute matters against the accused. Providing legal advice to people charged with criminal offenses would violate the Rules of Professional Conduct. ADA's represent the State of North Carolina, the adverse party to the criminal, traffic or infraction charges. They would likely lose their job and could possibly lose their law license.

That may seem unfair and in some instances it wouldn't make a difference. The reason why that is the rule is because lawyers are held to a professional standard of legal competence and ethics.

Furthermore, Lawyers carry malpractice insurance and if an attorney makes a mistake, there is a method for recourse. Clerks of Court don't. If they botch something and hurt someone, even if unintentionally, the legal remedies would be limited at best. If attorneys act unethically, they can lose their law license and an insurance company would pay damages.

Therefore, although there are many people whom would like to help, they can't. Put simply, it's against the law.

Our system is established to provide a balance between the conflcting interests. Prosecutors prosecute. Judges adjudicate. And Defense Lawyers, well, they Defend and in so defending, the accused is assured of a legal recourse if the attorney acts unprofessionally, unethically or negligently.

9. Avoid Unnecessary Errors or Mistakes

North Carolina courts have deadlines and in some instances, require the timely filing of documents, motions and legal materials. If a form is submitted improperly, incompletely or late, it may hamper the chances of a viable defense or even the ability to argue an otherwise valid legal position.

8. Experienced, Able Prosecutors

In a criminal case legal arguments are often opposed by seasoned prosecutors whom possess a wealth of education, experience and trial skils. Make no mistake, North Carolina employs very smart lawyers to prosecute cases. Prosecutors are not charged with the duty to protect your interests, they zealously and aggresively seek to serve better good of the State. District Attorneys and ADA's have an ethical duty to prosecute matters they believe possess legal merit and focuse on victims' rights. . .not protect the rights of the accused. That's the job of the Defense Attorney.

7. Thorough Examination of the Evidence

Reports, documents and evidence brought forth by police officers, detectives and prosecutorial investigators may be incomplete. . .or incorrect.

Factual inquiries or disputes deserve an accurate answer or explanation. A professional criminal defense lawyer should roll up their sleves, study the various discovery materials and develop a "theory of the case" to provide an appropriate defense.

Tracking down records can take time and experience in knowing what to ask for and how to obtain the relevant materials. Preparation can make the difference between "guilty" and "not guilty" in a Criminal Court.

6. Expert Witness Testimony

Sometimes the best way to challenge (or present) a particular piece of evidence or legal theory is to call upon an expert witness.

An attorney may technically possess substantial knowledge and professional expertise in a particular field (if they don't, you may wish to find someone whom does); but, your attorney cannot testify.

Your attorney should be experienced working with experts and have the ability to discern first whether an expert is needed based up facts of the case or legal theory and second, should also know who the "experts" are in a particular field and whom to call as an expert at trial.

Experts possess the necessary education, experience and background to speak with legal authority. As such, they are afforded a special status at trial.

In North Carolina, there is a special in-court designation as an "expert," where that person may provide opinions based upon presented facts or theoretic scenarios.

The State often calls experts and for good reason. Judges and Juries rely on people with more experience in a particular field of study than their own.

Many criminal matters involve complex scientific testimony. It is common for the Courts to rely upon experts whom possess special or unique knowledge when it comes to science. Your attorney will help navigate the battle of experts in court and at trial.

5. Plea Negotations: Alternatives to Trial or Guilty-as-Charged Pleas

For some crimes, North Caroina allows for diversionary programs or "deferred prosecution" alternatives. In some instances, it is mandated by the laws of the state. Defense lawyers commonly negotiate "plea deals" with prosecutors to avoid trials, limit exposure to prison and to save time in court.

Plea negotations in North Carolina are specifically recognized, authorized and allowed in the courts as a valid method to avoid unnessary litigation and inappropriate judgments.

4. Serious Social Stigma / Long Term Effects

Criminal Convictions carry consequences other than fines, the Costs of Court, Jail or Probation. What may seem a "minor" criminal conviction may affect personal relationships and a reputation in the community and with family. The internet has created an institutionalized memory that may never go away.

3. Criminal History & Employment

Generally speaking, without some special dispensation from the Courts such as an expungement, a criminal conviction will stay on your criminal history forever; it does not go away.

In today’s competitive job market, this can mean the difference between getting your dream job and standing in the unemployment line. Who wants to hire an ex-con when a suitable applicant with a clean criminal history can be hired?

This is one of the most costly yet most overlooked consequences of a criminal conviction.

2. Punishments Punish. . .and hurt.

Convictions for things like Shoplifting, DWI / DUI and drug possession have consequences.

While common, they can carry some very heavy penalties depending upon circumstances of the offense.

Loss of license, community service, jail / prison, house-arrest, mandatory searches, frisks and drug tests, supervised or intensive probation, in-patient treatment, electronic monitoring, etc., each depend on the type of case, factual history and prior criminal background.

There are very real and sometimes very painful consequences of being convicted.

1. Uncover the Truth

Law enforcement is a human endeavor and while there are many true professionals, everyone makes mistakes. No matter how nice the police officer was, it's not unusual for attorneys to hear, “THAT is not what happened!"

This is why you need a true professional, to uncover the truth and show the court what really took place and to protect your rights.


If you have a criminal case in North Carolina, please call Powers McCartan, pllc for a confidential consultation or visit our website at:

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