Do I Need A Lawyer? | William Young and Associates
People often ask if they need an attorney to handle their case. The truth is: this is a question every person must answer for themselves, we cannot answer it for you. Everyone has the right to proceed "pro se" (represent yourself) if they choose. The court can not force you to hire an attorney but this does not mean you should represent yourself.
Just because you can represent yourself does not mean you should.
While it is possible to handle a case on your own, it is probably not advisable. Just like I could... possibly... build a home on my own, the result is probably going to be much better if I let a trained professional do it for me. The law is complex. No matter how "straight forward" you think the situation is, almost no case is "simple". When you are charged with a crime your reputation, your future, and your freedom are on the line. By representing yourself you are taking a large unnecessary risk. Hiring an attorney can be the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony conviction, jail and probation, or a conviction and an acquittal. When your case is over, you do not want to look back and wonder if things might have been different.
The Internet is not a law degree.
Often, the first place many people turn for information when representing themselves is the Internet. Although the Internet is a great tool and there is a wealth of information available out there, every criminal case is unique and the law in one case may not apply to another. The law is not one size fits all, every jurisdiction has unique laws, rules, customs, and procedures - how a criminal case is handled changes state to state, county to county, and even judge to judge. Information found on the Internet is often useless, incorrect, or outdated. Attempting to use this information can hurt your case rather than help. Even if you track down the correct information, the court process and procedures are confusing and the courts are unforgiving when they are not properly followed.
"He who represents himself has a fool for a client." - Abraham Lincoln
Almost daily see pro se defendants (people representing themselves) sputter out useless and inapplicable law in court. They are frustrated and upset when they find out that the court has rejected their argument because they did not follow proper procedure or utilize the correct Idaho law. Truthfully, it is hard to watch. I feel bad for these people. Just because the constitution allows you to represent yourself does not mean that the court will treat you any different than an experienced attorney. You are held to the same standard as an attorney with 30 years of practice under your belt. No one will guide you through the process or take it easy on you because this is your first time through the system. Pro se defendant's often end up losing not because they have a bad case, it is because they do not have the training or experience with the law, the process, and the procedures that an attorney would have. This may seem harsh or cruel, and I have sat through many cringe-worthy hearings where a pro se defendant, red in the face with anger and frustration, is yelling about how it is unfair for them to be held to the same standard as an attorney, but this is how the system works and complaining about it when something goes wrong will not change the result.
I also often see pro se defendants enter into bad plea deals. Often a large portion of my job is negotiating good plea resolutions for my clients. I only know what a "good deal" looks like because I have reviewed thousands of plea offers for my clients and watched as thousands of other cases are sentenced by judges. Without this experience evaluating offers made by the prosecution would be nearly impossible. This means that a pro se defendant may think that the prosecutor is cutting them a break when they enter a plea deal when in reality they are being taken advantage of. Further, plea deals are often motivated by the prosecutor's likelihood of losing at trial - the more likely they are to lose at trial the better the offer. As winning at trial is very difficult for pro se defendants due to their lack of experience with things like the Idaho Rules of Evidence, the offer made to them may be much less favorable than would have been made if they had an attorney.
Our criminal justice system is not designed to be user-friendly. If you choose to represent yourself you may regret it in the long run.
We encourage individuals to contact an attorney before making this decision. Even if you do not end up hiring an attorney it is important to understand your rights and your options. During this time of crisis having a knowledgeable and trustworthy attorney by your side can be critical to making any important decisions. In the end, it is your decision whether you proceed on your own or with the help of an attorney; you have to do what is right for you. However, we do not charge anything for consultations so what do you have to lose by simply making a call and discussing your situation? It may the most important thing you do.