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Self-Representation In A Criminal Case


Sometimes in the court of a criminal proceeding, the accused may decide to fire his or her attorney and proceed pro se. When a person proceeds pro se, it means that he represents himself and works as his own advocate in court. Anyone who is facing trial may defend himself if it is his choice and he meets other requirements to ensure that his choice to waive counsel and represent himself is knowing and intelligent.

A person is entitled to counsel at all critical stages of trial, which includes proceedings other than the trial itself, for example sentencing. The person is allowed to choose to represent himself during all these stages.

In Florida, there are several factors that a court looks to in making the determination of whether a person’s waiver of counsel is knowing and intelligent. These factors include:

  • The age, education and background of the person, including experience with the criminal justice system;
  • Whether or not the person has mental health issues;
  • Whether the person understands the dangers of representing himself, for instance, whether the person understands that he may be subject to a sentence enhancement; and,
  • Whether the person’s decision to waive counsel is a result of coercion or mistreatment by someone else.

It is also important to understand that once a person chooses to represent himself, he has to follow the same courtroom procedures that an attorney would be expected to follow. This includes following the rules of evidence when presenting evidence in his case. This is why self-representation can be so difficult. The person representing himself may have little to no legal training and may not know how to best use evidence in his favor. He may also not know how to object to the prosecution’s attempt to introduce inadmissible evidence. Another disadvantage of self-representation is that the defendant cannot claim he received ineffective assistance of counsel when filing an appeal.

If a person chooses to represent himself in plea negotiations, he is also less likely to receive a favorable offer than he would if he was represented by counsel. Therefore, even if the accused is determined to just plead guilty, he may still require the expertise of an experienced criminal defense attorney to negotiate a favorable plea.

When a court allows a person to represent himself in his criminal trial, the court may sometimes also appoint another attorney to act as stand-by counsel to assist the person with the technical aspects of the criminal proceedings. Standby counsel is not meant to represent the pro se defendant and will not act like a defense attorney who is fully in control of the case. The defendant will still be in charge of critical issues like trial strategy and the questioning of witnesses.

Contact Us for a Consultation

If you are displeased with the representation you are getting from your criminal defense attorney, it may be time to consider hiring a new attorney. Representing yourself in a criminal trial can be dangerous, especially if you are facing serious charges with long prison sentences and high fines. For an experienced criminal defense attorney to handle your case, contact the experienced criminal defense attorney at Scott Berry Law in West Palm Beach for a free consultation today.


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