By: Mark Diaz
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Reasons You Should Never Defend Yourself In Court
If you are facing criminal charges in Texas, you will no doubt at least consider representing yourself as a pro se defendant at some point. There are a few reasons people in your position think about taking on the defense of their own criminal case, such as:
- When it is your first offense, you might assume that the court will go easy on you or be lenient with punishment.
- You believe the prosecution has enough evidence to convict you, so hiring a lawyer is not worth it.
- You believe the prosecution has so little evidence against you that they will have to dismiss the case
- You have an affidavit of non-prosecution from the victim of the crime
- You cannot afford to retain a defense attorney.
These factors seem to make perfect sense to justify going it alone, despite the fact that you are guaranteed the right to counsel by the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Section 10 of the Bill of Rights within the Texas Constitution. However, when your rights and personal freedoms are at stake, it is wise to consider going in the other direction and retaining a lawyer. After all, even a conviction on a first-time misdemeanor will go on your criminal record. You could be paying the price if you assume a plea bargain will be no problem, and there may be defenses in a case where guilt seems obvious.
Knowing that it is a bad idea to represent yourself when facing criminal charges, make it a priority to consult with a League City criminal defense lawyer right away. Whether you were recently charged or think you are the subject of a pre-arrest investigation, you benefit when you have a legal professional on your side as early on in the criminal process as possible. Plus, instead of trying to figure out your own defense, review these reasons you should never defend yourself in court.
1. A skilled attorney understands the law
Criminal law is extremely complicated because it encompasses many layers in terms of rights, what constitutes a crime, the rules of evidence, punishment, and defenses. You are at a disadvantage unless you have in-depth knowledge of:
- Your civil rights under both the U.S. and Texas Constitutions
- What statutes apply to your case, since there are different offenses under the federal and state criminal structures
- Case precedent, because the opinions and findings on previous cases from higher courts of law may have an impact on your case
- Court procedural and evidentiary rules that govern cases from arrest and/or indictment to pretrial activities to conducting the trial
2. You will need to conduct an investigation
The prosecutor has police and other officials that have already gathered enough evidence to make an arrest, and they will continue these efforts to build a strong case against you. You need a League City criminal defense lawyer to level the playing field, especially if you do not qualify for release on bond or you cannot afford the bond amount as it is set. An attorney can:
- Assess the prosecutor’s proof and potential witnesses that will be called at trial
- Interview witnesses who can testify in your favor regarding the facts
- Negotiate a more favorable outcome on your case with the prosecutor
- Work with private investigators to gather evidence to exculpate you or reduce the charges.
3. Your lawyer will hire experts where necessary
Some criminal trials come down to very specialized evidence of factual concepts, such as DNA, ballistics, and the results of a breathalyzer test in a Texas DWI case. To present these facts, you may need an expert that can assess the information and explain what it means. The explanation could be important for your case if it uncovers details on a potential defense that your attorney can pursue. Plus, aside from acting as consultants, experts can also be part of the trial process. These professionals can often translate complex topics into layman’s terms for the jury.
4. You will need practical and legal advice on the proceedings
Once your attorney delves into the details, you will need sufficient details on the legal concepts to ensure you make an informed choice about how to go forward. After evaluating the prosecutor’s case-in-chief, speaking with witnesses, and investigating the facts, your lawyer can give you a realistic view of potential outcomes in your case. Ideally, there may be defenses available or other issues that could lead to a dismissal of the charges. The more likely scenario is that your attorney will suggest plea bargaining or other tactics to resolve the charges as described below.
5. A League City criminal defense attorney assists with pretrial stages
There is a lot that transpires between an arrest and trial, and much you can do to leverage defense opportunities along the way. A civil rights violation or other procedural error may warrant a motion to dismiss the charges, while your lawyer may gain an advantage through other motions, such as:
- Motion to compel evidence or information on witnesses that is within the control of the prosecutor
- Motion to suppress information that should be tossed out of court as evidence against you
In addition to motion practice, the court may also hold routine hearings, status conferences, and other appearances where it is crucial to have a defense lawyer on your side.
6. Alternative resolutions may be possible
The majority of criminal cases in Texas are resolved before trial, and you may have options that greatly benefit your situation. If you do not have a conviction in your criminal history, you could qualify for a first-time offender program or pretrial diversion. These programs operate like a type of probation, though the specific details vary according to the underlying crime. Generally, you must comply with the terms and duration set by the court, at which point the charges at a later date may be dismissed.
A criminal defense attorney in League City can also assist with plea bargaining. Plea bargaining is negotiation between your attorney and the prosecutor regarding possible resolutions of the case that may be much more beneficial to you and allow the opportunity to avoid trial.
7. A criminal defense lawyer is critical at trial
A trial on the merits offers additional opportunities to fight the allegations, especially when you consider the high burden of proof on the government. The prosecution must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and keep in mind that there are multiple elements to every criminal offense. As such, your attorney will first be in the position of attacking the evidence in the prosecutor’s case-in-chief and cross-examining witnesses.
When it comes time to defend the criminal charges, your lawyer will have the chance to present evidence and witnesses. Some information might serve to disprove the prosecution’s facts, but you may also present such defenses as:
- Self-defense, such as in murder or assault cases
- Consent by the victim, particularly for sexual assault
- Lack of knowledge or intent, when these are elements of the crime
- Having a valid prescription for a controlled substance you were found in possession of
- Failure to have control over drugs, where constructive possession is alleged
9. It is wise to have legal help at sentencing.
Getting an acquittal would be the best-case scenario, but you should also anticipate the possibility that you could be convicted; alternatively, if you plea bargain, you will plead guilty. In other words, many cases still require you to go through the sentencing process, where there could be a wide range of imprisonment terms. For instance, after a conviction for a Third-Degree Felony, the judge must still decide how long you will be imprisoned – and it could be from 2 to 10 years. A lawyer can present evidence and arguments to convince the judge to issue a sentence on the lower rather than higher end.
Discuss Your Case with a Criminal Defense Attorney in League City, TX
These reasons to retain experienced legal counsel are compelling, but keep in mind another point as you are doing your research to find the right fit: It is equally important to work with a lawyer who focuses on criminal defense and is an expert in this area of the law. A conviction on criminal charges could lead to a long prison term, astounding fines, and collateral consequences, putting your future at risk. League City Criminal Defense Lawyer Mark Diaz has years of experience representing clients in a wide range of Texas criminal cases, so you can feel confident your case is in good hands.
Please contact our firm right away to schedule a no-cost consultation. Residents in League City, Galveston County, Greater Houston can call (409) 515-6170 to reach our office. Once we review your circumstances, we can discuss potential defense strategies.