Wednesday, December 10, 2014

                                  101 Things
                    An Author Needs to Know
                 About the Police and the Law

                   Can a person represent
                   themselves in court? 

When you are accused of a crime, you have rights. One of those rights is having a lawyer with you during the process -- from questioning through the end of the trial -- if you want one. If you don't want a lawyer, you also have the right to represent yourself.

Called appearing "pro se" or "pro per," representing yourself means that you must take the time to learn the law and do whatever a lawyer would do to protect your rights. Before making this decision, consider what it might mean.

Why People Represent Themselves

People choose to represent themselves for a variety of reasons. Some think they will be more successful than someone who doesn't know the facts of their case as well. Others represent themselves because they think they won't qualify for a no-cost, court-appointed attorney, but don't want to hire one at their own expense. Still others simply don't like or trust lawyers.

Representing Yourself Has Disadvantages

Criminal law can be difficult to understand. If you represent yourself, you'll have to learn the law related to your type of case. You'll also need to learn about procedures used in the courtroom,  including picking a jury, questioning witnesses, preparing documents, and submitting evidence.

The prosecutor, representing the government whose laws you're alleged to have broken, is likely to be experienced and knowledgeable about the law and criminal procedures. Faced with such an opponent, an unprepared pro se defendant can be at a distinct disadvantage.

Standby Legal Counsel

The judge will not give you legal advice, extra help or give you extra time simply because you chose to represent yourself. To give you access to legal advice while representing yourself, the judge may appoint a lawyer as advisory counsel or co-counsel. The lawyer acting as advisory counsel may write up documents, talk with the judge on your behalf, and be available in the courtroom to answer your questions.

Co-counsel may also work with you as a team in the courtroom. A judge who decides that you are not able to represent yourself competently may tell the lawyer to take over your defense.
Thank you to


Chris said...

It should be so simple, shouldn't it, standing up in court and telling the truth so that you can defend yourself against a false accusation. Unfortunately a good prosecuting lawyer can run rings around what's said and load meaning into the most innocent sounding statement. I can understand why anyone would want to represent themselves if they know they are innocent - the cost of legal representation can be crippling even if the verdict goes your way - but as you pointed out, Jody, it can be a risky thing to do if you don't know what you're about.

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Chris. A court procedure has a rhythm and flow. I can tell you from a court reporter's perspective that doing a trial with a pro se is a nightmare. You just never know what's coming next, they don't speak up, they ask all sorts of questions that are long and disjointed and I know once I toil over that section the prosecutor is more than likely to object and have it stricken from the record anyway. Most times they don't order the transcript, as that is quite costly, and that's how we make our living. In the office we make the new reporters take pro se cases. Sort of an initiation/rite of passage thing. But once in a while I'm stuck doing one. My last one was a long and nasty divorce. Good grief.

Chris said...

Interesting info, Jody. So the court reporter is on a set fee as part of the legal set up, and gets additional payment from people ordering sets of his/her notes for reference or appeal purposes, is that the way of it?

Yes, I imagine someone who didn't know what they were doing would be grating to have to report. If the judge then says, 'strike that from the record', are you able to literally remove that section of text from your writing as if it were never there, or merely indicate in some way that it must not be considered as part of the evidence?

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Chris. I apologize. That 'stricken from the record' comment is misleading. The portion of the testimony or ramblings of a pro se are stricken as part of the information the judge or jury may consider when reaching a verdict. Which is hard to do. You can't un-ring a bell. The jury has already heard whatever is it that they are now being asked to forget. but nothing is stricken from a court reporter's notes, and in fact, the stricken portion will appear in the transcript. It could be grounds for an appeal if a lawyer feels the info was particularly damaging or influential, so the appeals court needs to read what it is that happened.

There are two kinds of court reporters; those that work for the state (official reporters) and those that are independents. And by state I mean the local state court and also the federal court. The ones that work for the state are hired by the state, have their own office, are assigned one particular judge they work with every day, get paid a base salary (generally) and extra pay if a transcript is requested. Court reporters get paid per page of the transcript, generally around $4 per page. Every minute of a proceeding generally produces one page of a transcript. So if you have a 30-minute hearing, you'll get a 30-page transcript. Think how fat that transcript is for a day-long trial. Those official reporters even get health insurance. They report in daily at certain times to their courtroom. It's a regular job. There are very few official spots in any given courthouse and when one comes open, they get dozens of applicants.

The other kind of court reporter is the independent. That's me. We associate ourselves with a court reporting firm. The firm books us out, we turn in our work to them and they mail them out or deliver them, and they do the billing. They take 25-30% of the bill as their fee. We do our own taxes and find our own health insurance. Judges who don't have an official reporter, lawyers, and pro se people call the firm and request a court reporter for some upcoming proceeding. Could be a trial. Could be a deposition. Or an insurance statement. I've gone to hospitals to record adoptions. I've gone to prisons to record statements. We get our jobs emailed to us each day for the next day. I never know where I'm going to be or what kind of thing I'm going to do or how far I have to travel. It can be nerve wracking. We get paid for our attendance, usually a flat fee for half a day (If I get there and the attorney says the witness called and can't show, I can turn around and go home and still get paid the attendance fee) and we get paid per page for a transcript. Often both attorney's will want a transcript. The ordering party pays the transcript fee and the other party pays a lower copy fee. I've been on cases where there are 5-6 attorneys all wanting copies. woo-hoo. Love those days. They are not allowed by statute to copy and share transcripts and occasionally a judge will say "All parties must order their own" ... but of course I've seen instances where they share. Especially if they are in the same firm.

Anyway, that's a quick overview of how we work. Okay, not to quick...but an overview.

Chris said...

Fascinating and an interesting insight into what goes on behind the scenes. Thanks, Jody, I appreciate you taking the time to explain that. Hospitals and prisons, too. Seems they keep you on your toes.