Can You Represent Yourself in a Criminal Trial: What You Need To Know

Gavel and scale depicting Can You Represent Yourself in a Criminal Trial

A criminal trial is an overwhelming and scary situation, especially for those who have never encountered the criminal justice system before.

Most people, when charged with a criminal offense, find a way to finance the services of a criminal defense attorney or obtain a court-appointed defense attorney in order to navigate it.

However, there are some people who want to represent themselves. Or they are wondering if this is a good idea for one reason or another. Reasons include:

  • You can’t afford to hire a lawyer.
  • You don’t think the potential punishment is enough to justify the expense of hiring a lawyer.
  • If you intend to plead guilty because the sentence for their charge is always the same and it won’t do them any good to hire a lawyer.
  • You believe defense attorneys are just part of an oppressive system and won’t do them any good.
  • You believe that having a defense attorney did them no good in a previous trial and that they could do just as well themselves.
  • If you are in jail awaiting trial and can gain access to the jail’s law library by representing themselves.
  • You want to try to use the system to delay proceedings by repeatedly filing motions.

Are any of these good reasons to represent yourself in court?

How can representing yourself in a criminal trial backfire on you?

Should You Represent Yourself in a Criminal Trial?

It’s not usually a good idea for you to represent yourself. In a few situations, it can make sense.

The main reason someone may choose not to hire a lawyer is that the crime for which he is being charged is not severe, nor is the punishment likely to be severe.

If you are being charged with a minor traffic offense or shoplifting you may get by without having an attorney. Or, because you are not likely to know common sentencing for the crime for which you have been charged, you can hire an attorney to advise you for an hour and proceed on your own.

At least you would know what your sentence is likely to be if you are found guilty.

Reasons Why You Should Not Represent Yourself in a Criminal Trial

However, even representing yourself in a minor charge can backfire. A conviction can have serious repercussions later – such as increased auto insurance rates or a more severe sentence for a second offense.

In addition, there are other reasons it’s not a good idea to represent yourself in court including:

  • You could end up saying something in court that could hurt your case.
  • Facts you believe support your case may not be a legal defense to your charge.
  • You will have no one to ask for help or advice; not the prosecutor, not the judge and not the court clerk.
  • Your emotions may cloud your ability to defend your case by attacking the evidence.
  • You run the risk of disrupting the court and irritating the judge, which can have a bad result.
  • You will be required to follow the rules of the court and will not get a pass because you aren’t an attorney.
  • Additionally, you may not be able to claim ignorance of court procedure as the basis for an appeal if you lose your case.


All of these mistakes come from not knowing the court system and not being a lawyer. They can be avoided by hiring a good defense attorney who knows what he or she is doing.

You may think the potential sentence isn’t worth the expense. However, you may be getting in way over your head if you decide to represent yourself in court.

If you are facing charges and need an experienced criminal defense attorney, contact my office today.

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