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Should You Represent Yourself In A Criminal Case In Los Angeles?


Believe it or not, a lot of people do choose to represent themselves in criminal cases in LA, even if the case is a misdemeanor or a felony, or even an infraction.  I’ve seen people for many years now, representing themselves.  Sometimes it really doesn’t matter.  A lot of times, especially in an infraction case, the result may well be the same as if you had an attorney.  Tough to say without obviously seeing the details — whether you had a defense — and sometimes there’s lesser charges that can be negotiated by a good criminal defense attorney.

Critical To Have An Attorney For Felony Charges

But when it comes to felony cases, it’s absolutely essential in my opinion that you have your own criminal defense attorney.  Obviously, criminal defense attorneys have not only gone to school to become a lawyer, but criminal defense is a very specialized area.  You have to know the ropes.  You have to know what motions to file, how to argue the motions, how to try to get evidence in, how to try to keep evidence out.

Once the prosecutors decide in their mind that you’re guilty of a crime, they’re going to do everything they can to win.  People think they’re just going to be fair and not try to get in certain evidence and go by the rules.  They’re going to try to get whatever evidence in they can, and a lot of times I’ve seen prosecutors push the rules to the envelope ethically and in fairness.  That’s where a criminal defense attorney obviously has to speak up and fight for their client.  But, if you’re not trained in criminal defense and haven’t had experience defending criminal cases, a lot of times you don’t know what vehicles can be used to block evidence from coming in and you’re not going to be able to counter-argue as strongly as a criminal defense attorney could.

Experienced Criminal Lawyer Gives You The Best Chance

So, the answer is that it’s not a good idea to represent yourself, even if you have stand-by counsel which I’ve seen people do.  But the stand-by counsel can’t help you in the case.  They’re not allowed to.  So, having stand-by counsel really doesn’t do you much good unless you later decide that you can’t represent yourself.

Then at least a stand-by counsel will have been sitting there the whole time and will know what’s going on in the case, know where the case stands and know what arguments to make moving forward.  But, if you’re going to do that, you might as well just let the lawyer be the person in charge of the case right from the beginning so the case is moved in the right direction right from the beginning.

Once you make certain mistakes in a criminal case, that is going to haunt the case for the rest of its existence, and obviously you don’t want to do that if you’re looking to either get a not guilty or to minimize the damages should you be convicted or should you have to enter a plea with the prosecutor.

Criminal Lawyer Will Know The Proper Motions To File

So, a lot of times I think I see people trying to represent themselves is when they’ve decided, I’m not taking any deals.  I’m going to go and tell my story.  I’m going to get a not guilty verdict.  And that’s all fine, and well and good.  But you don’t want to do that if you’re not well-equipped to defend yourself.  Again, the prosecutors are trying to get in all the evidence they can.

Some of the evidence might be able to be blocked but if you don’t make the right arguments then you’re not going to be able to do that.  Also, there may be some good motions.  Maybe there’s an illegal stop, illegal search — some other motion where your rights are violated and you don’t know how to argue it the right way.  You lose the argument and then you lose the ability to try to keep out certain evidence or even to get the case dismissed.

Consult With Our Criminal Law Firm

So, to give yourself the best chance of being successful, in my opinion, you should definitely let a criminal defense attorney represent you, even if you want to be part of the process and have a say in what happens, do that but do it through a criminal defense attorney who knows what they’re doing, has been down the road you’re about to travel and knows what it takes to be successful in a criminal case in Los Angeles.

Hedding Law Firm
Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyers
16000 Ventura Blvd #1208
Encino, CA 91436
213-374-3952

Related Resources:
Does Self-Representation in a Criminal Case Ever Make Sense?
California Courts – Representing Yourself

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About the Author

Named Top Los Angeles Criminal Attorney by LA Times and named one of the Top 100 criminal defense attorneys in California by the National Trial Lawyers Association. I'm the attorney other lawyers hire to defend them.