Can I Represent Myself in Criminal Court? Yes, But This Is Why You Shouldn’t.
A person accused of a crime has a right to represent themselves in court.
The case that established that defendants have a right to represent themselves was Faretta v. California, U.S. Sup. Ct. 1975 which said in part that a judge must allow self-representation if a defendant is competent to understand and participate in the court proceedings.
Defendants cannot represent themselves unless a judge determines that they are competent to do so. The community as a whole has an interest in achieving justice, and a trial in which an incompetent defendant self-represents isn't a fair one.
The Pro Se Defendant
Judges and lawyers in Kansas typically refer to defendants who represent themselves with the term "pro se". “Pro se” comes from the Latin and roughly translated means “for one’s own person.”
In determining competence, the judge will weigh various factors including:
1. the defendant’s age
2. the defendant’s level of education
3. the defendant’s familiarity with English, and
4. the seriousness of the crime with which the defendant is charged.
There is not a single factor which determines the result. A defendant doesn’t need the legal skills of a lawyer to qualify for self-representation. As long as a defendant is competent, knowingly gives up the right to counsel and understands the courts proceeding and follows the rules of evidence, the defendant is entitled to represent him or herself.
It is vital to understand that although a defendant can represent him or herself, that doesn't make it a good idea! We have all heard the old adage “He who acts as his own lawyer has a fool for a client”. Almost everyone I know who works in the criminal justice system agrees that self-representation is generally a bad idea. This is for various reasons, but the two most important reasons are:
1. The defendant usually lacks anything near the necessary training and experience to deal with prosecutors who have spent a career in the business and relish the pro se defendant as “easy meat”.
2. The defendant is unable to maintain objectivity when dealing with issues that could affect defendant’s freedom and or financial position.
Persons who go to criminal court without representation will find themselves at a huge disadvantage when it comes to knowledge of the law, knowledge of criminal procedure, knowledge of the rules of evidence and understanding of how the system works in general.
We at Seaton, Seaton and Dierks strongly recommend that you have legal representation at every stage in your criminal case. We generally offer initial consultation in criminal cases at no cost. Seaton, Seaton and Dierks stands ready to assist the accused in their fight for justice in system.