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Representing Myself in Court

Representing Myself in Court

When faced with a legal suit—whether a criminal case or a civil case—it is always advisable to seek the advice of an experienced attorney.  Even licensed attorneys are advised not to represent themselves in court.  In that regard, the assistance of an attorney is of such importance that the law provides for the appointment of an attorney in criminal cases for people who are unable to afford to hire an attorney.  That being said, there is no law that prevents a person from representing himself in a criminal or civil suit.  In fact, according to the United States Supreme Court, a defendant in a criminal case has a constitutional right to refuse counsel and represent himself in a “pro se” capacity, which is to say “to act on one’s own behalf.” 

In the event that you decide to represent yourself in court, you will need to educate yourself on the relevant laws and court rules pertaining to your case.  Many courthouses have a public law library where you can access law books and legal databases to research your case.  Additionally, the clerk’s office in the courthouse usually has legal forms and court instructions available to assist you with the preparation of your case.  However, keep in mind that court staff is prohibited by law from offering you legal advice.

Whether you are the plaintiff or defendant in a civil lawsuit or the defendant in a criminal lawsuit, you will be responsible for compliance with all of the applicable legal standards at each phase of your case.   A failure to comply with the legal requirements and deadlines could result in the dismissal of your lawsuit.  During the pretrial phase of your case, you will be expected to exchange information with the opposing party as well as respond appropriately to any motions filed with the court.  Additionally, during the trial of your case, you will be expected to prove all of the legal elements of your case and comply with the rules of evidence that govern the presentation of witness testimony as well as the introduction of documents that support your case.

Typically, emotions and stress levels run high for participants in a court case.  For this reason, even licensed attorneys are strongly advised not to represent themselves in court.