Pitfalls and Precautions on Going Pro Se in a Florida Criminal Case
When you’ve been charged with a crime in Florida and are considering your options for legal representation, you may be tempted to go pro se – represent yourself – during various stages of your case. Since the enactment of the Judiciary Act of 1789, individuals have had the constitutional right to handle their own defense without the assistance of a lawyer. However, just because you can go pro se doesn’t mean you should. There are many drawbacks to representing yourself; in fact, many seasoned attorneys won’t even go it alone if they’ve been arrested.
Still, when you think about the financial investment, you could be torn about whether to retain a Florida criminal defense lawyer. Before making a final decision, you should know what you’re getting into.
Challenges in Representing Yourself: The Florida criminal justice system is a vast field that draws from the US Constitution, the state equivalent, statutory law, case precedent, court procedural rules – and even down to the specific rules that apply in a designated court room. Plus, there are laws regarding the admissibility of evidence, motion practice, discovery, examination of witnesses, and many other technical details. When you don’t know the grounds for objections, improper evidence or testimony could become part of the official court record. It’s unlikely that you can successfully defend yourself if you don’t have a legal background, a law school diploma, and years of experience practicing criminal law.
The Jury’s Impression of a Pro Se Criminal Defendant: Even though members of the jury are required to follow the court’s instructions when returning a verdict, their perceptions could still lead to negative impressions. Jurors may believe that:
- You can’t afford a lawyer;
- You’re making light of the situation and not treating the case seriously;
- You are somewhat arrogant in believing that you can do a better job than a lawyer; or,
- You can’t find an attorney willing to represent you.
Don’t Expect Special Treatment When Going Pro Se: Regardless of the reasons you decided to represent yourself, you’re expected to follow the laws and rules that apply to your case. The judge will not be lenient or allow things to slip just because you’re a pro se defendant. It’s not likely that you can miss key deadlines or fail to attend court appearances just because you don’t know the requirements. If you are convicted, there may be grounds for an appeal – but the fact that you represented yourself usually will not be one of them.
Your Best Option is Hiring a Florida Criminal Defense Attorney
The playing field in a Florida criminal case isn’t always level, so you could throw out the balance even further if you decide to handle the matter on a pro se basis. It’s even more difficult to obtain a favorable outcome when don’t have a qualified lawyer, which means you could be convicted and face serious penalties. To learn more about the benefits of having experienced legal counsel on your side, please contact Fort Lauderdale criminal attorney Kevin J. Kulik to schedule a confidential consultation at our office.