Self Representation: Does it Make Sense?

by zizinya on February 19, 2013

Criminal law procedures and sentencing guidelines are difficult for a novice to understand. That’s why it almost always makes good sense to retain an experienced criminal law attorney to represent you when your freedom is on the line. Yet there are a few instances when self-representation may make sense.


Many defendants choose to represent themselves in a criminal case. The primary factor to consider is the jeopardy that you may be facing. The greater the potential sentence, the more you need the assistance of a knowledgeable criminal lawyer.

There are a number of reasons that criminal defendants prefer self-representation:

  • Even though many criminal defendants can afford legal representation, the probable sentence may not justify the cost of an attorney.
  • A defendant may realize that a lawyer will do them little good because they intend to plead guilty to a charge that will result in a standardized sentence.
  • Some defendants mistakenly believe that legal representation in previous criminal cases did them little good, and that they can do just as well on their own.
  • Defendants serving time in jail can gain access to various privileges by serving as their own legal counsel, including access to the prison law library and filing a myriad of motions to delay legal proceedings.

Choosing Self-Representation

Though it may make sense for someone who is facing a minor charge like shop lifting to choose self-representation, the strategy often backfires. Crimes that may appear to present little risk may come back to haunt a defendant. Settling for a light sentence for a first offense may result in a severe sentence in the event of a second conviction. This is certainly true with many vehicle offenses, not to mention the insurance rate increases that are likely to ensue.

Weighing Your Options

It isn’t always easy to know what kind of punishment you may be facing if you choose to defend yourself in court. Sentencing guidelines aren’t always listed in court rules or statutes. Though federal sentencing guidelines are an exception, judges aren’t necessarily bound by those guidelines.

Many states have determinate sentencing laws. Judges are bound by specific sentences or a range of sentences related to designated crimes. Judges may also be allowed to adjust sentences in accordance with particular circumstances under a given statute.

Yet other states rely on indeterminate sentencing laws. These laws allow the judge to prescribe sentences between a minimum and maximum sentence. If the sentence range is between ten years to life, the offender may be eligible for parole after serving the minimum sentence.

Consult with an Expert

Before you decide to defend yourself in court, you may want to consider purchasing an hour of consultation from a qualified criminal law attorney. This will allow you to completely understand the maximum punishment you could be facing. Speaking with a public defender or a friend or family member who happens to be an attorney can also be helpful.

Though it is usually feasible to represent yourself at an arraignment, serious criminal charges deserve the attention of an experienced criminal attorney. The more risk involved, especially violent offenses and felonies, the more important it is that you have a criminal law attorney on your side.

This article was provided by Miller Law Group, PLLC. Gary Miller provides an affordable criminal defense for individuals living in Houston, TX. He believes that an experienced and thorough defense should be available for everybody.

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