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Should I just go to court and plead guilty, with the help of the public defender, or just by representing myself?

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Jul 10, 2007 | 0 Comments

Any decision to enter a plea in a criminal case should be very seriously considered. Often the consequences of a criminal conviction, even a misdemeanor such as a DUI, may impact someone's life for years to come. For example, a truck driver convicted for a first time DUI loses his privilege to operate a commercial vehicle for a year -- which translates a one year loss of income! Another example, a person pleads guily to a theft crime, and finds out years later that his or her hopes of becoming a U.S. citizen are destroyed. Finally, you must financially qualify as low-income to receive the legal services of the Public Defender's Office. If you do not financially qualify, you must hire your own attorney or represent yourself. In sum, before going to court, the Criminal Law Blog advises possible clients to not just take what appears to be (on the surface) the easy way by pleading guilty on the first court date, without the assistance of a qualified criminal defense lawyer. Tagged as: california criminal laws


Soma Buy on December 7, 2009 at 2:22 a.m. wrote: In my opinion you are mistaken. Let's discuss it. M. Carmen Lopez on December 14, 2007 at 10:39 p.m. wrote: For criminal cases, it is definitely smart to be represented by a lawyer. Most criminal lawyers are experts with the law and know excellent tactics to help defendants to obtain favorable sentences. However, it does not mean that by getting a lawyer, defendants can guarantee themselves a verdict of 'innocent' to their favor. On the other hand, for civil matters there is the Self-Help Neighborhood Legal Services for litigants. The clinics from this Neighborhood Legal Services provide free information on self-representation to both Petitioners and Respondents. Legal representation from an experienced criminal attorney is definitely a huge advantage for defendants on criminal cases. David Carde on December 2, 2007 at 7:19 p.m. wrote: I absolutely agree with all those who have blogged on this issue prior to myself. Given the system in the United States, there seems to be no benefit to forgoing legal counsel. Those who have the financial means would do well to hire the best defense attorney that money can buy no matter what the crime. Those who qualify should take advantage of having a public defender provided so as to have the benefit of someone experienced in navigating the legal system. And even for those who fall in the middle and hiring an attorney would prove to be a financial hardship, it seems penny wise and pound foolish not to scrape up the money (even borrow if necessary) so as to protect oneself as best as possible. The down side of representing oneself is much too risky. Even if the decision is to plead guilty, this is only one aspect of the judicial process. Plead guilty to what? Possibly there are legal issues that complicate even how one words what crime one is acknowledging. It also seems that with a defense attorney there might be a greater likelihood of a plea bargain as counsel would have a clearer sense than a lay person of the vulnerabilities of the prosecution's case, even if the plan is to acknowledge guilt about something. Finally, there is the matter of punishment. It seems that a defendant has the best chance of achieving the lightest possible sentence if a defense attorney is involved. Hasti Ershadi on November 30, 2007 at 8:03 p.m. wrote: I don Dorilee Meyer on November 27, 2007 at 2:55 a.m. wrote: They say a person who acts as his own attorney has a fool for a client. This appears to be true even in instances where the accused is a lawyer. It's even more true for a lay person. A person who cannot qualify for an attorney(because s/he makes too much money for representation by the Public Defender) will often be tempted to plead guilty to a relatively minor crime to save money. It seems in the long run this will almost always be a mistake. The ramifications of a criminal record, even for a 'non-serious' offense can last a lifetime. Often there are consequences that a person does not even contemplate, like loss of job opportunities, increases in insurance for a DUI, and a myriad of other events. Apart from the intricacies that a lawyer does not know, it is also always advised that a lawyer accused of a crime seek legal representation. I think this is because an accused loses objectivity and the ability to make rational decisions. Also, many legal arguments sound self-serving when they are made by the accused instead of by competent counsel on his/her behalf. The answer to the question whether a criminal defendant should get an attorney is a resounding yes! Kelsey Kernstine on November 12, 2007 at 2:27 a.m. wrote: I definitely think people should go to court with the help of a public defender. I think that if a person represents himself or herself; they most likely will not know what they are up against unless they are a lawyer or a trained professional in the field. A public defender will be able to tell their client how and when to plead guilty. They are trained professionals that are there to help, not to hurt them. A person should go into a courtroom knowing the consequences of pleading guilty and be prepared for the outcome. A public defender will be able to let their client know what the consequences are under their such circumstance, and will be able to let their client know what the best to say is and when to say it. I think it is a very foolish idea to go into a courtroom without anyone representing you. People should go into a courtroom knowing the consequences of their actions and what will happen if they plead guilty. People should take all the measures and means possible to help minimize their charges. All in all, I think it is very important that person goes to court with the help of a public defender. Kristin Bryan on November 7, 2007 at midnight wrote: It is seems that it would be beneficial to have an attorney, even if it's a public defender. They are trained professionals who know the law and understand all of the complexities, loopholes, and intricacies. Often criminal convictions may result in consequences baring a large impact on one's life - whether it be time in prison, loss of capital, or as above preventing citizenship. Wouldn't one want to take precautionary measures to decrease the negative impact that the case may have on one's life? In Pizzi's book, 'Trials without Truth,' he discusses the Ferguson case. In this trial Ferguson's decision to defend himself resulted in disaster. He was permitted to walk around the courtroom, cross-examine witnesses (effected by him), etc. (85). Although self-representation is lawful according to the Supreme Court, it definitely seems a disadvantage. Don't you think the witnesses were negatively influenced by Ferguson's interrogations? Saturday Night Live made fun of his 'playing lawyer' (walking around the courtroom) - how could the jury take him seriously? It doesn't seem that in such a trial there is much concentration and value placed on discovering the truth. Rather, it appears that the case is a show denying a fair and dignified trial to the victims. Granted there may be instances in which the defendant is an experienced professional lawyer and feels he/she can best represent him/herself. But I feel that these instances are rare and even then it would likely be beneficial to have another intelligent mind working on the case. Hiring a lawyer or taking advantage of a public defender raises the confidence in the system and the likelihood that truth will be of the utmost concern.

About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...


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