There are also freely accessible web search engines to assist pro se in finding court decisions that can be cited as an example or analogy to resolve similar questions of law. Google Scholar is the biggest database of full text state and federal courts decisions that can be accessed without charge. These web search engines often allow pro se to select specific state courts to search.
Unless your case is unusually complex, you really can represent yourself. You may not have all the legal training of a lawyer, but you do not need to go to law school to have common sense, to learn how to ask intelligent questions, or to recognize what makes people and information believable. In the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, one of the country’s most revered U.S. Supreme Court justices, “The life of the law has not been logic, it has been experience.” As these words suggest, your everyday life experience is the foundation of most of what you need to know to present a coherent, convincing case. Besides, as former Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger was fond of pointing out, many lawyers are not such hotshots; they often come to court ill-prepared and lacking professional skills.
When lawyers provide substandard representation, unhappy clients can seek relief from state disciplinary authorities and legal malpractice lawsuits. But a pro se litigant’s ability to fix mistakes made by online websites and non-lawyer advisers is much more limited. And the risk of getting inaccurate information may increase when pro se litigants communicate with online businesses in writing, rather than with lawyers in face-to-face meetings.
In 1963, the Supreme Court broke from precedent and found the right to counsel to be a “fundamental safeguard[ ] of liberty” guaranteed to all criminal defendants by the Constitution.28 In the landmark case Gideon v Wainwright,29 Clarence Earl Gideon was charged in Florida state court with breaking and entering with intent to commit petty larceny.30 Gideon appeared alone in court and requested a court-appointed attorney to assist his case. The Florida court declined, as Florida did not provide counsel for criminal defendants in noncapital cases.31 After granting certiorari,32 the Supreme Court held that the Due Process Clause requires states to provide counsel in noncapital criminal cases, overturning Betts. The Court focused on the “fundamental” nature of the right, comparing it favorably to rights like freedom of speech and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment, and the Court held that the Due Process Clause prohibited states from violating the right.33 This holding, along with its extension to misdemeanors in Argersinger v Hamlin,34 established the modern right to counsel in all criminal cases.35
Commentators have seen Turner as a complete rejection of civil Gideon, effectively foreclosing the possibility of an expanded right to counsel in civil litigation, at least for the foreseeable future.44 However, commentators have also seen the holding in Turner—that due process requires trial courts to protect pro se litigants’ rights via procedural safeguards—as a nod toward a new and potentially more fruitful approach to pro se litigation: reforms in trial courts.45
The challenges presented by the large volume of pro se cases in federal district courts may require meaningful changes to achieve a full resolution. In order to make headway on that front, reformers must properly contextualize and understand the nature of pro se litigation in those courts and evaluate the successes and failures of efforts that have been undertaken thus far.
"A few poor people are lucky enough to get legal services, but it's very few," said Paul Garlinghouse, a New Haven family lawyer who has worked in a clinic to teach people to represent themselves. "But then you have this huge mass of low-income and moderate-income people who just have to go it alone. You see them every day. They just stand up there, and it's painful to watch."
There are two court systems in the United States: the state courts and the federal courts. The state courts typically hear matters relating to civil, criminal, domestic (divorce and child custody), probate, and property in accordance with the laws of each state. Matters typically heard by the federal courts involve violation of federal laws; admiralty and maritime matters; United States patent, trademark, and copyright matters; bankruptcy proceedings; proceedings against ambassadors, consuls, and ministers. These matters usually fall into two main categories: (1) federal question cases -- cases which arise under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States; and (2) diversity cases -- civil matters arising between parties who are citizens of different states and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000.
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)
This response is not to be construed as legal advice and is provided for educational purposes only. This response does not create an attorney/ client relationship. The response provides general legal information and education. This response does not address any specifics concerning this inquiry, as the inquiry as written may have omitted details which would make the reply unsuitable. The inquirer is strongly encouraged to consult with an attorney in his or her own state to acquire more information about this issue. Licensed to practice in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
The Legal Services Corporation, the single largest funder of civil legal aid for low-income Americans in the nation, reported in June that 86 percent of low-income Americans receive inadequate or no professional legal help for the civil legal problems they face. Here in Georgia, state courts heard more than 800,000 cases involving self-represented litigants in 2016 alone.
Court clerks withhold information from non-lawyers that they routinely give to lawyers. If a lawyer's office calls to ask about a particular scheduling procedure, for example, the clerk provides all sorts of answers without thinking twice. But let a self-represented person ask for the same (or even much less) information, and it suddenly becomes legal advice. Many clerks' offices feel compelled to post signs saying, "We don't provide legal advice!" Most often, that means that they are unwilling to help unrepresented people get into court or respond to a lawsuit. (Imagine if IRS clerks refused to answer questions about how to file a tax return.)
Defendants who choose to appear pro se may do so because they believe they may gain tactical advantages against the prosecutor, such as obtaining sympathy from the jury, the opportunity to personally address the jury and witnesses. Pro se appearances may also delay the trial proceedings and enhance the possibility of a mistrial and a subsequent appeal.
Late in 2016 NYLAG opened a legal clinic for pro se litigants in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) – one of a handful of federal district courts across the country seeking to make legal assistance available to the large number of civil litigants who come to federal court without an attorney by authorizing and funding an on-site legal clinic.
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.
Tables 2E and 2F show that there is considerable variance in the outcomes of different types of cases for both represented and pro se litigants. When plaintiffs proceed pro se, they win somewhere between 2 and 11 percent of cases, depending on the nature of the suit. When the defendant is pro se and the plaintiff is represented, the plaintiff wins somewhere between 43 percent and 93 percent of cases,89 depending on the nature of the suit. This substantial variance is not confined to pro se litigants. Even when both parties are represented, there is wide variance in the percentages of cases won by plaintiffs, ranging from just 13 percent in products liability and employment discrimination cases to 77 percent in property cases.90 But in essentially all categories, pro se litigants fare far worse than represented litigants.
Whatever your case is about, I can't emphasize enough for you to take a morning off from work to go watch some cases in court. You'll eliminate some fear of the unknown, you'll start to see that attorneys go through a similar set of procedures that you are just as capable of performing yourself, and you'll get a feel for how to talk to the judge and those who might be in the same room as you.
Trial attorneys who are not mindful of the psychological and sociological elements at play when litigating against pro se parties risk exacerbating an already difficult situation by increasing the likelihood of protracted and unfocused litigation, appealable procedural missteps, and unmanaged expectations. Thus, at the outset of the lawsuit, an attorney facing a pro se opponent should make every effort to determine what is motivating the litigation (e.g., hurt feelings, anger, unmitigated expectations) and, if possible, the reason for the lack of representation. Throughout the pretrial process and during trial, a primary objective of counsel should be to strategically allow the pro se litigant to air his or her grievances in such a way as to limit the scope of triable issues while still being satisfied with his or her day in court.
Do I have the time and resources available to represent myself pro se? As you can see, there is a lot of learn before representing yourself at a child custody hearing. Parents considering pro se representation should carefully consider whether they have the time, determination, and undivided attention necessary to dedicate to this task before deciding to go it alone in court.
Do I have a basic understanding of how court procedures work? Custody hearings, and court procedures in general, can be quite confusing for first-timers. Parents considering pro se representation usually benefit from attending a couple of court hearings in advance, just to become more familiar with what to expect in court and what proper court etiquette looks like. (And remember: any questions you have about proper court procedures can always be addressed to the court clerk. So seek that person out and develop a friendly rapport with him or her.)
Once convicted, a prisoner no longer has the right to a public defender. Motions for post conviction relief are considered civil motions. Brandon Moon is an example of an unsuccessful pro se litigant who became successful when his case was taken by a lawyer. Moon's case was taken by the Innocence Project, and he was released after 17 years in jail for a rape that he did not commit.
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However, before such a petition can be filed in the federal court, the petitioner must pursue and exhaust all available state law remedies. This means that if you want to challenge a conviction or a sentence, you must pursue your right of appeal under Idaho law. This may be accomplished in two ways: (1) the direct right of appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court, or (2) by filing a petition for post-conviction relief in the state district court followed by an appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court. Only after you have fully pursued the available state law remedies will you be eligible to pursue a federal petition for writ of habeas corpus.
Basically, what I'm saying is, the assumption in your second paragraph--that civil rights law is something you can teach yourself by reading other people's pleadings and filings--is false. There are people who study the law for three years, and still aren't considered competent enough to be licensed. You are not going to pick it up in a week or two.
Some experts, like John Pollock with the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel, have focused on expanding the right to counsel in civil cases implicating basic human needs. Others have advocated for expansion of the right to counsel in lower-level criminal cases where the consequences – including obstacles to housing or employment, or deportation – can still be incredibly high.
133. For example, this Comment does not consider how many resources would be required to enact civil Gideon nor whether they could be better used elsewhere. It also does not consider whether civil Gideon itself would be effective at improving civil pro se outcomes. While the experimental literature discussed earlier suggests that access to counsel improves case outcomes for pro se litigants, it is unclear whether a similar quality of counsel would be provided in a civil Gideon world. Indeed, the success of Gideon in the criminal context is a hotly debated subject, with many scholars considering it a disappointment. For an example of a scholar who considers Gideon a disappointment, see generally Erwin Chemerinsky, Lessons from Gideon, 122 Yale L J 2676 (2013).
The potential relevance of selection bias in this analysis should also be addressed. As Part II discusses, selection bias can likely explain a portion of the gap in case outcomes between pro se and represented litigants.110 However, as this Part discusses, the relevant sample for comparison is the difference in case outcomes between pro se litigants in courts that have implemented reforms and courts that have not implemented reforms. Thus, the pro se cases in different district courts are similarly affected by this selection bias. Litigants with weaker cases may be more likely to proceed pro se in EDNY, but they are also more likely to proceed pro se in the Southern District of New York (SDNY) or the Northern District of Illinois. Accordingly, the cases being compared should presumably be similar in average strength, or at least there is no reason to think this selection bias will result in differences in average case strength for pro se litigants across different district courts. These selection bias issues result in a gap in the average strength of cases brought by pro se litigants and represented litigants, but they do not lead to a gap between the average strength of cases brought by pro se litigants in two different district courts.111
44. Or at least foreclosing the possibility of the Supreme Court expanding the right to counsel for civil litigants. See Steinberg, 47 Conn L Rev at 788 (cited in note 9) (noting that “[t]he court unanimously rejected a guarantee of counsel, greatly disappointing civil Gideon proponents”); Barton and Bibas, 160 U Pa L Rev at 970 (cited in note 5) (noting that “Turner dealt the death blow to hopes for a federally imposed civil Gideon”).
43. Id at 447–48 (citations omitted). Note that safeguards, such as additional forms to elicit relevant information or additional notice about critical issues, are potentially similar, though not identical, to reforms such as giving pro se litigants access to an electronic version of the docket or allowing additional communication with a clerk at the court (the reforms analyzed in Part III).
Genius often makes itself known in short bursts, so don't let it go when it comes around. If you have a great idea for a new work process, a recipe to try, or even a way to drive more efficiently, write it down. This way, you'll remember the strokes of genius that fleetingly pass through, and you'll be able to look back on them and remind yourself of the little things when you're feeling down.
In Faretta v. California, the Supreme Court of the United States held that criminal defendants have a constitutional right to refuse counsel and represent themselves in state criminal proceedings. That said, the right to represent oneself is not absolute. It is the Court's right and duty to determine if a particular individual is capable of representing himself, and can inquire into the individual's lucidity and mental status to make that determination.