Defendants Table in a CourtroomIf you are facing criminal charges, you may be tempted to represent yourself to save money on attorney fees, and you may not see the need for a lawyer if you plan to plead guilty. However, you would be making a big mistake if you decide not to hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer. This is true even if you have been arrested for a misdemeanor offense, such as reckless driving.

Do You Have a Right to Represent Yourself?

Under the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, your rights as a criminal defendant are protected. It gives you many constitutional protections.

Your Constitutional Rights

  • Right to represent yourself
  • Right to a speedy trial
  • Right to a public trial
  • Right to have an impartial jury decide your case
  • Right to know all the charges against you.

If you decide to represent yourself, you would be referred to as a pro se defendant. However, just because you have the right to defend yourself does not mean that it would be smart to do this.

Six Reasons Not to Represent Yourself in Your Criminal Case

If you have watched TV or movie criminal dramas, you may see the defense lawyer effectively cross-examine the prosecutor’s witnesses or present a surprise piece of evidence that dramatically results in the criminal case being dismissed. From watching them, you may think that defending yourself would be easy.

However, the reality of resolving a criminal case in North Carolina is far different and more complicated than what you see portrayed on the big screen. Here are six reasons you should not try to represent yourself in your criminal case.

#1: You Don’t Understand the Law and Court Procedures

You do not have the knowledge to understand the laws you are accused of violating or the court procedures you must follow in your criminal case. Even if you read the criminal statutes and court rules, this does not mean that you would understand the nuances of what must be proven to convict you or what procedures you must follow in your criminal case. Court decisions have further defined what these laws mean and how criminal court procedures work.

You may not be able to recognize that the prosecutor has failed to prove a key element of the crime you are accused of committing. In addition, if you do not know the court procedures that must be followed, you could miss a key deadline to file a pre-trial motion that could have resulted in the charges against you being dismissed.

#2: You Don’t Know Your Defenses

Even if you know you are guilty, you may have strong defenses that could result in the charges against you being dismissed or reduced to a less serious offense. For example, the police could have made a mistake in your criminal investigation, such as failing to properly collect the evidence against you or violating your constitutional rights, which could be used in your defense.

A skilled criminal defense lawyer can identify the defenses that can help you achieve the best outcome in your criminal case. They may be able to file pre-trial motions to get key pieces of evidence being used against you suppressed. This could weaken the prosecutor’s case against you enough that they may be forced to drop the charges against you.

#3: The State Would Have a Lawyer

If you represent yourself, you would be going against a seasoned prosecutor who represents North Carolina and whose goal is to convict you. They would have extensive knowledge of the criminal statutes, court decisions, and court rules that apply to your case. The prosecutor would take advantage of your lack of experience and knowledge.

#4: You Wouldn’t Know What Paperwork to File

In the pre-trial phase of your case, you may not understand your right to obtain all the evidence the police have against you. In addition, you might not understand all the pleadings that the prosecutor is filing in your case and the ones you would be required to file. If you miss a deadline or incorrectly complete a form, you may lose a strong defense that could have resulted in you being acquitted.

#5: The Judge Would Not Tolerate Your Mistakes

If you chose to represent yourself, the judge in your case would expect you to know the law and follow the applicable court rules and procedures. They would not cut you any slack if you make mistakes. In addition, you could get on their bad side, which could result in you receiving a harsher sentence if you are convicted.

#6: You Wouldn’t Get a Favorable Plea Agreement

Most criminal cases are resolved through a plea bargain where a defendant pleads guilty to a lesser offense, or the prosecutor agrees to recommend a reduced sentence. A criminal defense attorney would be much more likely to work out a favorable plea agreement with the prosecutor because of their experience working out plea bargains on behalf of other clients facing charges similar to yours.

Are You Looking for a Criminal Defense Lawyer in Charlotte, NC?

If you are facing criminal charges, you need to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Charlotte office directly at 980.207.3355 to schedule your free consultation.


Howard W. Long, II
Connect with me
Charlotte Criminal Defense and DWI Lawyer