Someone representing themselves in court is not a common theme we see in our justice system, but there are occasions when it does happen. Most people represent themselves in court for a multitude of reasons. In criminal cases, a defendant might not want to pay or can't afford a private attorney, or they may feel as if a public defender might not have their best interest in mind during the trial or because their trial might be cut and dry and they believe they do not need representation.
There are even situations where a defendant distrusts the system and feels that going outside of the usual realm makes a statement of resistance. Another main reason might be that a defendant is already in jail and may welcome the privileges that come with handling their own case, such as getting permission to use the library.
One of the biggest understandings to have if you plan to represent yourself is that you will be held in the same regard as a seasoned attorney and will be required to understand the laws and the proper etiquette and decorum.
Laws and court systems have their own language, and if you are someone that does not know even the simplest of terms, you can become lost and very confused during a proceeding. Many of the most common words used during a court proceeding are derived from Latin. Such words as Habeas Corpus (That you have the body), Per Curiam (By the court), and Pro Se (On one’s own behalf). We have gathered some of the most common legal terms to help you understand some of the verbage used during the duration of a trial. The following legal terms are important to know as they could potentially come up in discussions with your lawyer, in documents, or even in current events.
There are often many circumstances where a case is resolved outside of the court and does not even go to trial. This happens when both sides come to an agreement in a process called a plea bargain. There is a multitude of reasons why parties agree to a plea bargain, including but not limited to the following:
For the most part, the plea bargain is a private process, and the details are only known to the public once it is announced in court. This can avoid the huge publicity that comes with trials, especially those with high-profile clients.
There are, however, occasions where the plea bargains are subject to approval by the court, and there are instances where the judge may not follow the wishes of the plea bargain and continue to trial.
The verdict is a term that is used when there has been a decision made by the jury in a case. During a criminal case, the jury will either issue a guilty or not guilty verdict. Whereas in a civil case, the jury will rule in favor of the plaintiff or the defense. If the jury rules in favor of the plaintiff, then the defense will be responsible for paying the plaintiff for the damages that occurred.
Once the jury has issued a verdict, it is common practice for the lawyer of either party to ask for the jury to be polled. During this process, each individual jury member will stand while the judge asks if they agree with the decision. Once the polling has been completed, the court will accept the verdict, and the trial will be ruled complete.
Testimony is oral or written evidence given by the witness under oath, affidavit, or deposition during a trial or other legal procedures. During court proceedings, there will be witnesses brought to the stand in favor of the defense and the plaintiff. While the witness is on the stand, they are under oath, and everything they say is testimony and is considered truth. Suppose the opposite party can argue through evidence and cross-examination that a witness is not telling the truth during your testimony. In that case, they can rebut the testimony making it so that the testimony is invaluable and full of holes.
A grand jury consists of 16 - 23 people and is presented with evidence from the U.S. attorney, the prosecutor in federal criminal cases. The grand jury determines whether there is “probable cause” to believe the individual has committed a crime and should be put on trial. If the grand jury determines there is enough evidence, an indictment will be issued against the defendant.
In the United States, the grand jury acts as an investigative body and can convene for a month up to a year if need be. There are no restrictions on the grand jury's ability to conduct its investigations. The grand jury may request that the court gather further evidence, including witness testimony and subpoenas of documents. The grand jury ultimately acts as a buffer between the Government and the people.
Merriam-Webster defines the Standard of Proof as the level of certainty and the degree of evidence necessary to establish proof in a criminal or civil proceeding. Three of the most common standards for proof are Clear and Convincing Evidence, Beyond Reasonable Doubt, and Preponderance of Evidence.
Beyond Reasonable Doubt is a standard of proof that is more directed toward criminal cases. The beyond reasonable doubt standard requires you to prove, based on the evidence, that the party that is accused of the crime is the sole person responsible for the act.
The Preponderance of Evidence standard states that a party must demonstrate its claim or position by a preponderance, which is described as dominance in weight, force, importance, etc., in the majority of civil cases/lawsuits as well as administrative hearings. A preponderance of evidence, as used in personal injury and breach of contract lawsuits, denotes that a party has demonstrated that its version of the facts, causes, damages, or blame is more likely than not the accurate one. Unless otherwise stated by law, this standard is the simplest to achieve because it is applicable to all civil disputes.
The preponderance of evidence standard is applied when the plaintiff meets the burden of proof by providing proof that their claims have a higher than 50% possibility of being true. The burden of evidence is satisfied if a claim can be shown to have a greater likelihood of being true than false. Cases involving civil law are typically subject to the preponderance of evidence standard.
Lastly, the Clear and Convincing Evidence standard is derived from the Preponderance of Evidence standard and is required to show that the evidence provided is highly probable that the issue at hand occurred. This standard applies to civil cases and can present itself in some forms of criminal cases. This standard can also be used to ensure the search for evidence was voluntary.
The plaintiff is the party that brought the issue to court, so they will be faced with the burden of proof to prove their case is true. The burden of proof is often said to consist of two distinct concepts: burden of production and burden of persuasion.
Depending on the jurisdiction in The United States, the burden of proof might include, but is not limited to:
The burden of proof in a legal context is very important to a case's outcome. Determining who is in charge of presenting evidence that supports or refutes a claim is a requirement under the law. It also establishes how much proof is required to reach that objective.
Lack Of Knowledge - Contrary to what people believe, watching legal dramas will never supply someone with the legal expertise required to argue a case in court with any degree of competence. Criminal defense attorneys spend interminable years studying the law while in law school and continue to hone their skills in court throughout their careers. Attorneys train to become extremely familiar with all court procedures. What you see in law dramas is just that: drama. The fact that even lawyers who are facing criminal charges hire other lawyers to represent them in court should drive that point home.
Lack Of Experience - There are instances where the self-represented defendant might know their case better than anyone. Where this might be true, this does not mean you should represent yourself. Simply knowing your case does not grant you knowledge of knowing how the legal process works. In the majority of cases, the defendant will be facing a seasoned litigator that has tried many cases and fully understands the process of trial. Defendants representing themselves will have a huge disadvantage against the opposing attorney not only in knowing the vast amount of laws but knowing and understanding the people of the court. Most seasoned attorneys are familiar with judges, clerks, and bailiffs. Knowing the people in these positions does not magically grant you success in a trial. It will, however, significantly help by understanding how people like things to flow, what they care to hear, what they do not care to hear, and what buttons they can push and ones they can not. This is especially true when it comes to specifically the judge.
Clouded Judgment - When someone represents themselves, they might get a clouded judgment because they might only focus on themselves. For example, a defendant might look past the evidence and argue with emotions, ultimately weakening the defense. This is where having a lawyer represent their client's interest comes in handy because the lawyer will argue the evidence and facts in the case and not bring emotion into the mix. Additionally, when you argue with emotions, you might cause unnecessary disruptions that will annoy the judge and court and ultimately waste the jurors' time.
The Sixth Amendment in The Constitution states that in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed. In the landmark 1975 Faretta v. California case, the Supreme Court held that implied in the sixth amendment is an independent constitutional right of self-representation that a defendant may exercise. However, one of the stipulations had to be that the person who was seeking to self-represent themselves had to waive the right to counsel knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently.
Even though you have the constitutional right to self-represent yourself, it is never advised. Self-representation is a dangerous and difficult task for someone to take on if they do not fully understand the ins and outs of our judicial system. That is why it is necessary for you to contact one of our dedicated attorneys at The Cochran Firm today. We have attorneys ready to answer all of your legal questions.
At The Cochran Firm, our attorneys and trial lawyers are dedicated to providing the highest quality legal representation for people and their loved ones. Our successes and results have been recognized nationally by legal publications and professional legal associations. We're here to help answer your questions. Judicial matters can be complicated; our experts are on hand to help inform you of every aspect of your topic. We take great pride in using our expertise for you and look forward to hearing from you.
To schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with one of our attorneys, please contact us today. We maintain offices throughout the United States, better enabling us to fight tirelessly for the rights of injury victims in all areas of the country.
If you have followed trials of defendants representing themselves, then you might have heard of someone referencing themselves as a sovereign citizen. The FBI defines sovereign citizens as anti-government extremists who believe that even though they physically reside in The United States, they are separate or “sovereign” from the United States. Furthermore, sovereign citizens believe that not only do they not have to follow the laws, but they are also exempt from them entirely. Most use conspiracy theories or false accusations to try and justify their sovereign citizen status.
One of the most recent and top-viewed trials where the defendant claims sovereign citizen status is the case of Darrell Brooks v. The State of Wisconsin. During the trial, Darrell Brooks made many accusations towards the court and the judge's legal grounds to hear this trial by questioning her oath of office or if she has even taken the oath of office, asking for proof of subject matter jurisdiction, and claiming that there is no plaintiff in his case because a plaintiff has to be a living and breathing human being, not an entity.
Even though many judges and jurisdictions acknowledge the term sovereign citizen, it has no legal merit in our justice system. So as Judge Durrow did in the Darrell Brooks case, she acknowledged the claims, made notes, and moved on with the proceedings. Even though the sovereign citizen movement has become more popular in our court system, it never works as it has no legal bases. So it is not the best decision to claim to be a sovereign citizen as it will not help you in your trial.
Whether you are in civil court or you are defending yourself in criminal court, it is always a safe bet to retain a lawyer. Court proceedings can be very daunting and time-consuming, not to mention very confusing at times. Additionally, if you are representing yourself, you can seriously derail your case if you do not file certain documents in a timely manner, or you can even file the wrong document altogether.
Having a lawyer on your side can aid you in gathering evidence in your defense, exchanging information in the discovery process, negotiating plea deals, and settling a case before you even go to trial. Seasoned attorneys also have an extended network of experts at their disposal that can sift through the evidence and find errors that can ultimately aid you and your attorney in fighting against the evidence in your case.
Furthermore, without the appropriate legal expertise, you might not be able to determine whether a crucial piece of evidence against you was obtained illegally or whether a witness' testimony conflicts with past statements. And was the evidence handled correctly by the crime lab at every stage? Your lawyer will learn about these things and could be able to get that evidence suppressed.
While each person is legally in their right not to hire an attorney, every situation is different, and court proceedings are very fluid, and you will have to follow the flow of the court. Failing to work with an attorney in certain instances can lead to broken agreements, lost claims, or even prison time. That is why it is essential for you to hire a seasoned and well-educated attorney so that they can help you seek the justice you deserve.
Self-representation in court is not something someone should take lightly. People who self-represent themselves will face attorneys that have dedicated their lives to studying the law and have had many opportunities to finely tune their tactics. Once someone has decided to represent themselves, they will be treated as if they know just as much or more than the opposing team's attorneys and the judge themselves. There will be no opportunity to turn back, and the judge can not, by law, give someone legal advice before, during, or after the trial.
We at The Cochran Firm have a large team of dedicated attorneys ready to answer the call. With years of experience and the vast diversity of our lawyers, we have represented cases in personal injury, mass torts, auto and truck accidents, construction accidents, and criminal defense. Our results speak for themselves. Contact us today at 1-800-THE-FIRM for your no-obligation free consultation. At The Cochran Firm, our attorneys and trial lawyers are dedicated to providing the highest quality legal representation for people and their loved ones. Our successes and results have been recognized nationally by legal publications and professional legal associations. We're here to help answer your questions. Judicial matters can be complicated; our experts are on hand to help inform you of every aspect of your topic. We take great pride in using our expertise for you and look forward to hearing from you. To schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with one of our attorneys, please contact us today. We maintain offices throughout the United States, better enabling us to fight tirelessly for the rights of injury victims in all areas of the country.
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