Lee & Lee PS Law Talk

Q: I have a college degree and am smart; do you still think it is a bad idea to represent myself in a criminal case? A: Generally, yes!  You will be expected to proceed as if you are a lawyer licensed in the State of Washington.  This means you will be held to the same standard as a lawyer – you will have to follow all of the rules and laws.  No matter how smart you are, you will find it extremely difficult to learn how to draft a compelling legal brief or effectively question witnesses.  You will also find it nearly impossible to present your legal arguments within the restrictions of the law.  As a result, there will be many sustained objections against you, frustrating the presentation of your defense.

Lee & Lee PS Law Talk (Nelson Lee and Bethany Mito)

Lee & Lee PS Law Talk
Q:
I have a college degree and am smart; do you still think it is a bad idea to represent myself in a criminal case?

A: Generally, yes!  You will be expected to proceed as if you are a lawyer licensed in the State of Washington.  This means you will be held to the same standard as a lawyer – you will have to follow all of the rules and laws.  No matter how smart you are, you will find it extremely difficult to learn how to draft a compelling legal brief or effectively question witnesses.  You will also find it nearly impossible to present your legal arguments within the restrictions of the law.  As a result, there will be many sustained objections against you, frustrating the presentation of your defense.


Q: But won’t appearing pro se make the jurors for the judge feel sympathetic toward me?

A: No!  Some judges may give you some latitude because you are not a trained lawyer – they may even allow you to get away with breaking some of the rules on trial procedure.   But don’t confuse this with sympathy.  When judges do this, they are trying to avoid legal issues on appeal and are also trying their best to make sure you get a fair trial.

As for the jurors, it has been my experience that while they are sometimes amused by pro se defendants and their antics in court, they are generally frustrated by the trial being interrupted by so many objections and explanations on how to properly follow the law.  It slows everything down.

Q: Can I have a lawyer or public defender assist me even if I am proceeding pro se?

A: Yes, judges do often allow lawyers/public defenders to act as “stand-by” attorneys.  This is designed to make the trial proceed smoother and more efficiently.  The hope is that the stand-by lawyer will help direct and instruct a pro se defendant.  But even under this circumstance, I would strongly advise against proceeding pro se.  The stakes are simply too high – the risks of losing your freedom, having a conviction permanently on your record, and jeopardizing your immigration status make this option unwise in most situations.

Q: What are my options in non-criminal cases?

A: One option is the Northwest Justice Project (NJP).  NJP is a publicly funded statewide legal aid program that provides legal help to eligible low-income persons and groups facing certain types of legal problems.  NJP does NOT provide assistance in criminal cases.

Q: What kinds of cases does NJP handle?

A: NJP generally handles cases involving the lack of income, employment or loss of employment, disabilities, discrimination, consumer abuse or illegal business practices.  NJP also helps people applying for government services.

Q: What is the procedure for contacting NJP?

A: The screening is done by CLEAR to determine eligibility.  In King County, you can dial 211 or the toll free number, 1-877-211-9274.  Outside King County, you may call 1-888-201-1014.  For people over 60, you can call CLEAR/NJP at 1-888-377-7111, regardless of income.  If needed, screeners can conference in the language assistance line. Following the screening process, one or more of the following may occur: 1) you will be given verbal or written advice on how to handle the matter on your own; 2) you will be sent legal information and/or forms to help you handle the case on your own; 3) staff lawyers will attempt to resolve your dispute through negotiation; 4) your matter will be referred to one of the staff attorneys or to another aid provider.

Next topic: “What am I to do if I cannot afford to hire my own attorney? (3)”
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Lee & Lee PS Law Talk—Disclaimer—
This article is made available by Lee & Lee, PS and this publisher for educational purposes only.  The intent is to give the reader general information and a general understanding of the law. The article does not provide specific legal advice.  Readers of this article should understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and the writers or their publisher.  Furthermore, the article is not a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your jurisdiction.

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