If you or a loved one has been accused of a crime and are currently in the courtroom making decisions about your case, chances are, you may be wondering whether or not you should hire a lawyer to represent you.
Handling your own criminal case without the aid of legal counsel can be both difficult and frustrating, but if you do it right, you’ll be able to save a good deal of money while handling your case on your own.
Though the amount that it would cost you to hire an attorney is likely far less than what you will spend on a lawyer if you end up getting convicted, sometimes innocent people get convicted even with an experienced defense attorney in their corner. To ensure that your experience in the courtroom goes as smoothly as possible, there is a few things you can do to navigate your criminal case on your own.
Understand the different types of crimes
Before choosing to represent yourself, you must understand the different types of crimes. There are three primary categories of crimes: felonies, misdemeanors, and infractions.
When someone has been accused of a felony crime, they will be facing the most serious type of punishment if found guilty. Misdemeanor charges are a step down from felonies, and infractions are the least serious. Felony charges can carry lengthy prison sentences, while misdemeanor crimes often result in jail time, but not long-term stretches of incarceration.
Infractions are the lowest form of crime, and as a result, they can sometimes be handled without involving the court system.
Learn the rules and procedures
Whether representing yourself or hiring an attorney, it is always a good idea to learn as much about your courtroom’s procedure and rules before heading in. Understanding how things work will make you feel more confident when inside the courtroom.
If you represent yourself, make sure to go over any paperwork regarding your case several times before heading into the courtroom. It is also a good idea to have legal representation when filling out paperwork because it can be difficult for some people to understand everything on a form that may contain legal jargon.
Generally, forms will ask you for basic information like your name and current address. You will also be asked to state whether or not you are pleading guilty or not guilty. Many criminal forms will also ask about your current employment status and if you have been convicted of other crimes in the past, even if it was a long time ago.
There is much more paperwork involved for both court-appointed attorneys and private defense lawyers because they need to turn over important evidence to the prosecutor and the judge. They will often be required to submit paperwork like police reports, witness statements, and an opening statement that explains what they believe took place.
When you represent yourself in a criminal case, it is helpful to gather any evidence that supports your side of the story before heading into court. Evidence may include things like pictures of injuries you or another person received during the incident, any statements that witnesses made about what they saw or heard, and recorded statements from audio recordings or video recordings.
It would help if you also were prepared to provide your address, telephone number, and other contact information for yourself and any witnesses who may have seen or heard a certain event.
It is also important that you do not discuss your case with anyone except your attorney unless the judge permits you to do otherwise or during a break in the court proceedings.
Furthermore, it’s important to understand that you will have to follow the judge’s rules in the courtroom. If you refuse to abide by the court or believe there is a reason not to, then it may be beneficial for your case to hire an attorney who can keep the proper procedures and rules under control throughout your trial.
Make a list of potential witnesses, and contact them to see if they are willing to testify on your behalf.
You should also find out from your witnesses what they actually saw or heard during the crime. Make sure to explain what happened from your perspective, and make a list of any other pertinent information that you feel is important.
If you are accused of a felony, then it’s very likely that the prosecutor will contact investigators with the police department who will perform an investigation into the case. An investigator may speak with all involved parties and may try to find additional eye-witnesses who can provide information that includes things like how fast you were driving during your last traffic incident.
Similarly, if you are charged with a misdemeanor or infraction, then the prosecutor will ask them to complete a report about the details of the case. If there are any additional witnesses they will speak with them and try to get detailed statements about what actually happened.
Make a clear list of all your legal rights, especially in regards to whether or not you can refuse to answer questions if you are represented by an attorney.
Before heading into court, make sure that you have an idea of what you need to do. Some people may believe that simply showing up to court promptly shows the judge that they are interested in their case, but this isn’t always true.
When you arrive at court for your arraignment or first hearing, be sure you bring all your documents and any other evidence associated with your criminal charge so that you can provide it to the judge or prosecutor.
There are many reasons why you should keep copies of all your records and documents regarding your case, including medical reports, photos of injuries or damages, police reports, witness statements, and other important papers. When you make copies of these things before court proceedings begin then there is less chance that someone could steal or lose them. You can also give the copies to your attorney for safekeeping, and have him/her bring them with him/her to court so that you don’t need to carry all of these things in order to bring them there yourself.
Research how judges typically make decisions in cases like yours so you know how best to present yourself in court.
If you are the defendant in a criminal case, then it’s realistic to believe that there will be a plea bargain offered by the prosecutor where you would plead guilty (or no contest) to lesser charges in exchange for less time or a lighter sentence. An attorney may also attempt to reduce your sentence even further if he/she believes it is warranted after speaking with witnesses, reviewing police reports, and filing prior convictions of the defendant into evidence.
If you are considering pleading guilty or no contest to a criminal charge, then it’s important that you make an informed decision about what is happening because even if you do plead guilty to a crime, there may be certain circumstances that allow for your charges to be reduced through a deferred sentence or the charges could be dropped if certain conditions are met.
Since judges can sentence defendants to jail for misdemeanor and felony convictions, there may also be other reasons why you would want to consider hiring an attorney. He/she can tell you how likely it is that the judge will imprison you for your crime, whether or not there may be alternatives to detention in the case of a misdemeanor, and what sentences typically look like for similar cases.
Before going to court, make sure you have an idea about what is likely to happen during your hearing so that you don’t misbehave where it could cost your case even further. When accused people are considered disruptive, prosecutors are more likely to push for harsher sentences in order to deter other people from acting out. If you are accused of a crime, then it’s possible that people will be called as witnesses who may need to explain what they saw or heard during the time of the alleged incident.
Write down questions that could be asked during cross-examination and prepare answers for those questions beforehand.
Think of questions that could be asked in regards to your case and get answers for those questions beforehand. You can also write down common objections and ways you plan on answering them.
Post bail right away if it is a non-bondable offense. If you are able to post the full amount of bail, then do it as soon as possible as opposed to waiting for the bail amount to be lowered. The more time you spend in jail, the more likely a judge or prosecutor is going to get involved. Once they get involved, things can and do change as well as delay your case even further.
Do not say anything to anyone about what happened until after speaking with an attorney. This applies to all of your family, friends, and acquaintances. There is nothing you can say that will benefit your case. The only thing it will do is give the prosecution more information which they can use against you so don’t say anything!
Do not discuss your charges with anyone prior to speaking with an attorney or else you could run into problems if you accidentally say something you shouldn’t have said.
Keep calm and cool-headed. When you are facing criminal charges, staying calm is one of the most important things you can do to help your case. Staying clam shows that you are in control of your emotions and also that there was nothing done to warrant such a reaction, which could be used by the prosecution if you get emotional.
Avoid bad influences as much as possible
If there are people around who pressure you into committing crimes – cut them out of your life immediately. In addition, don’t allow people to convince you into acting out in ways that are unnecessary and destructive. If you have ever been around people who are constantly trying to make you do things that aren’t right – stay away from them if possible. The only reason they’re trying to convince you otherwise is because it makes them feel good . Do not be tempted or mislead by people who aren’t going to be there for you when things start getting rough.
Avoid using drugs and alcohol whenever possible.
If you have used any drugs and/or alcohol before, during, or after the crime was committed, it’s vital you recognize that it’s not an innocent crime. In essence, you have committed a crime because you did something illegal and/or immoral. It may be difficult to identify the point in time why your actions were wrong or made you “guilty” of committing a crime, but if drugs/alcohol had anything to do with it, then you need to be honest with yourself and seek help.
The law is a complex system that can be difficult to understand and navigate. If you’re looking for more information about criminal defense, we would suggest reaching out to a lawyer in your area or state. There are a number of lawyers that can help you understand the criminal court system, as well as how to lessen the consequences of your charges for both juvenile and adult crimes.
You do not have to go through this process alone, as there is a lawyer out there who can assist you throughout every step. When facing these serious legal ramifications, being able to speak with someone who knows exactly where you stand can be a relief. Additionally, having legal representation through the court process eliminates confusion as to your rights and obligations. When faced with an overwhelming legal battle, it is essential for criminal defendants to seek help from others who are more knowledgeable about the law and how it pertains directly to their situation.