Most lawyers and judges would agree that pro se representation is not always the best decision for a defendant facing criminal charges. Many legal professionals can point to figures and statistics which demonstrate where attempts at self-representation have failed and led to unnecessary convictions. However, the right to pro se representation is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. So, if the defendant chooses to represent themselves, the court must honor that decision.
A number of commentators have trumpeted reforms at the trial court level geared toward assisting pro se litigants as a possible solution.8 These reforms usually aim to give pro se litigants access to resources and information that can help them successfully navigate the legal process, reduce their costs, or provide them with assistance from courts’ offices.9 Examples of reforms that have been implemented include providing pro se litigants with access to electronic filing systems that make it easier to file lawsuits and monitor proceedings, allowing pro se litigants to communicate with law clerks about their claims and proceedings, and publicly disseminating information about resources that may be available to pro se litigants through the court or third parties.10 Critically, these reforms can be implemented by the trial courts and their staff and do not require significant additional contributions from attorneys, clinics, or other legal institutions. Accordingly, these programs can help pro se litigants without diverting legal resources away from other causes, including indigent criminal defense. A large number of federal district courts have already implemented at least some of these procedural reforms aimed at helping pro se litigants.11
Clarence Earl Gideon was too poor to afford an attorney and thus proceeded pro se in his criminal trial in Florida in 1961. He was found guilty and subsequently appealed. He was appointed counsel (his attorney, Abe Fortas, later became a Supreme Court Justice) when the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court; the court ruled in Gideon v. Wainwright that the right to counsel means that states are required to provide counsel free of charge to indigent defendants in all criminal cases and that Florida's failure to appoint such counsel in Gideon's case constituted a violation of that right. On remand, Gideon was represented in the new trial, and was acquitted.
If you’re considering unbundled legal services, shop for your attorney with the same care as you would if you were hiring a lawyer to handle your entire case. That is, you need to investigate a lawyer’s qualifications, competence, and diligence. You also have to consider the cost of unbundled services, including the lawyer’s fee and additional expenses, such as fees for paralegals, investigators, and experts.
This book can guide you through nearly every kind of trial in every court system (state or federal) because the litigation process is remarkably uniform throughout all of them. In part, this is because federal courts and most state courts share a “common law” heritage—a way of trying cases that came over from England and developed along with the country. And, in part, it is because many local procedures are consistent with national legal codes (sets of rules and regulations).
Await Defendant's Answer. After being served with the complaint, the defendant will have a prescribed amount of time to file an answer. In California, a defendant usually must file a written response within 30 calendar days of being served. In Federal Court, a defendant only has 20 days. A defendant’s answer will typically include defenses, such as truth or expiration of the statute of limitations.
Table 4 suggests that, like the other pro se reforms that Part III considers, the pro se reforms in EDNY have not been effective in improving case outcomes for pro se litigants. The coefficient on the dummy variable indicating whether the EDNY pro se reforms were instituted is -0.59, and the 95 percent confidence interval suggests that there is some nonzero negative effect when no controls are instituted in the first model in column one.128 The results are similar for the second and third models except that, once all districts are controlled for, the negative impact of the reform is statistically significant. When dummies are introduced corresponding to the year of each case filing, this negative effect disappears and the fourth and fifth models indicate no statistically significant impact from the reform. Including the full set of controls for year and district, the 95 percent confidence interval suggests that the reforms in EDNY had an impact of somewhere between -0.43 percent and 0.51 percent on the win rates for pro se litigants, with a statistically insignificant mean estimated impact of 0.04 percent.129 These results suggest that pro se reforms were not effective at improving win rates for pro se litigants.
Strickland v. Washington (1984) Nix v. Whiteside (1986) Lockhart v. Fretwell (1993) Williams v. Taylor (2000) Glover v. United States (2001) Bell v. Cone (2002) Woodford v. Visciotti (2002) Wiggins v. Smith (2003) Holland v. Jackson (2004) Wright v. Van Patten (2008) Bobby v. Van Hook (2009) Wong v. Belmontes (2009) Porter v. McCollum (2009) Padilla v. Kentucky (2010) Sears v. Upton (2010) Premo v. Moore (2011) Lafler v. Cooper (2012) Buck v. Davis (2017)
128. However, this result is not robust against a different choice of years. For example, while the point estimate is still negative, the 95 percent confidence interval for a regression run on data from 1999 through 2006 includes zero (though the 90 percent confidence interval does not). Thus, the better takeaway at this point is not that the reform has had a negative impact on win rates but that it has not had a significant positive impact on win rates.
Eighty percent of state criminal defendants cannot afford to pay for a lawyer, and only those who are actually incarcerated are constitutionally entitled to appointed counsel. Many people facing misdemeanor charges can, if convicted, be subjected to significant fines and fees, or face the loss of benefits (including housing) or deportation. Yet, they have no right to an attorney, and those who cannot afford a lawyer will go without one.
When you interview a potential legal coach, ask about all fees and costs—including the initial interview. It obviously defeats your purpose if you have to spend more to consult a legal coach than you would to hire a lawyer to handle your entire case. Typically, lawyers use hourly, fixed, or contingency fee arrangements. Most likely, someone serving as your legal coach will charge you by the hour.
“In little more than a year the clinic has built confidence in the justice system for many pro se litigants. Our legal staff and volunteers have been able to make the process less confusing for clinic visitors and guide them in the right direction, which improves their chances for satisfactory outcomes,” said Robyn Tarnofsky, the director of the clinic.
Closing arguments to the jury set out the facts that each side has presented and the reasons why the jury should find in favor of the client. Time limits are sometimes set by the court for closing arguments, and each side must adhere to the specified time. The plaintiff presents closing argument first and may present rebuttal to defendant’s closing argument. Local Rule 39.1.
THE COURT AND CLERKS DO NOT COLLECT THE MONEY. The responsibility for that is on plaintiff, but the Court and the Pro Se Staff in Room 602 will assist in the process. Some defendants are unwilling to pay and trying to collect requires time and patience. In seeking to collect, plaintiff has a right to telephone the defendant at reasonable times. Some of the principal steps that may be taken to collect a judgment are:
Laws and organizations charged with regulating judicial conduct may also affect pro se litigants. For example, The State of California Judicial Council has addressed through published materials the need of the Judiciary to act in the interests of fairness to self-represented litigants. The California rules express a preference for resolution of every case on the merits, even if resolution requires excusing inadvertence by a pro se litigant that would otherwise result in a dismissal. The Judicial Council justifies this position based on the idea that "Judges are charged with ascertaining the truth, not just playing referee ... A lawsuit is not a game, where the party with the cleverest lawyer prevails regardless of the merits." It suggests "the court should take whatever measures may be reasonable and necessary to insure a fair trial" and says "There is only one reported case in the U.S. finding a judge's specific accommodations have gone too far." The committee notes to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure rule 56 on summary judgments notes that "Many courts take extra care with pro se litigants, advising them of the need to respond and the risk of losing by summary judgment if an adequate response is not filed. And the court may seek to reassure itself by some examination of the record before granting summary judgment against a pro se litigant."