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Pro Se: Representing Oneself


            There are many scenarios in the U.S. judicial system where it is necessary for one to represent themselves in a case. Typically, one will hire an attorney; however, this is not always necessary and can sometimes be less beneficial. Pro Se is the term used to describe someone who chooses to represent themselves. At first, it may seem strange that one would want to represent themselves.  However, there are many reasons for why one might do so.

What is Pro Se?

Pro Se is a Latin term meaning “on behalf of oneself.” As we mentioned before, it is used in the U.S. judicial system to refer to one who is representing themselves in court, rather than hiring a lawyer. The Sixth Amendment guarantees the constitutional right for individuals to defend themselves in court. Before one can defend themselves; however, they need to make sure they qualify. In order to qualify to be pro se, one must tell the court that they wish to represent themselves, file the appropriate paperwork, meet all court deadlines and requirements, and establish competency to stand trial. In order to be considered competent to stand trial, a defendant must be able to understand and participate in all the legal proceedings.

It is still under the discretion of the judge whether a defendant can be considered competent to stand trial. When considering competency, the judge will usually determine if the defendant is able to do the following:

  • Understand and participate in legal proceedings.
  • Understand the seriousness of the situation.
  • Distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information.
  • Distinguish between pleading guilty and not guilty.

If one is considered incompetent, then they will be unable to represent themselves and must hire an attorney.

Who Should Consider Going Pro Se?

Now that we understand what it means to be pro se in court, you may be asking who would want to do so. It is true that it is oftentimes easier to simply hire a lawyer to represent you; however, there are some individuals who will benefit more from going pro se themselves.

In order to determine who should be going pro se, we should first look at the pros and cons of doing so. The pros for going pro se include the following:

  • Familiarity – Most individuals who are choosing to go pro se, will already have some familiarity with their case. They may believe that the justice system will not put in the amount of work they believe is necessary for their case, so they would like to take matters into their own hands.
  • Less Costs – Lawyer fees are one of the most difficult parts of a court case to deal with. Depending on the attorney you hire, you can be paying a really large sum of money. In order to avoid this, some individuals choose to defend themselves in a case. This is a good way to save money, as doing so removes the need to hire a lawyer.
  • Independence – By deciding to go pro se, a defendant has the ability to do what they want in their defense. There are cases where a defendant and an attorney are unable to agree with a certain strategy, so going pro se is a way to avoid that headache all together.

Now that we understand some benefits of going pro se, we should look at some disadvantages. By looking at both, we can determine who is best fitted for going pro se. Here is a list of some cons in going pro se:

  • Less Debating Skills – Most defendants who are going pro se are not going to be as good as a lawyer when it comes to arguing their case. Even if they have a large amount of evidence in their favor, they may not be able to utilize it the same way an attorney could. This can prove even more troublesome if they are up against a skilled attorney.
  • Lack of Training – Most defendants who go pro se are not trained in law, and therefore, they are less capable of defending themselves in court. This means they will lack knowledge, they should have when it comes to arguing their case.
  • Bias – Defendants who choose to go pro se are usually biased towards their case. You may think this is the same for attorneys; however, this is not the case. Attorneys are trained to look at things from both perspectives in order to determine how to proceed with the defense. Being biased in the case can be detrimental to it, as it lessens your ability to debate.

Now that we have seen the pros and cons of going pro se, we can determine who should do it. It might be easy to assume that lawyers should go pro se when defending themselves in a case; however, this is not recommended. Most lawyers agree that it is not a good idea to defend themselves in court and will typically opt to hire another lawyer to defend them.

One of the most common examples cases where one chooses to represent themselves is in family law cases. Because they are closer to the cases, it might be beneficial for one to represent themselves in family law cases. If you choose to do so, it is important to have a good understanding of all the procedures and processes.

Why Going Pro Se is Serious

Now that we have looked at the reasons why one might go pro se, as well as the pros and cons of it, it is important to understand that going pro se is rather serious. We learned in the previous section that only certain individuals should and are able to represent themselves in court. When you go pro se, you are telling the court that you do not need an attorney. This means you are literally telling them you will be sufficient to act as a lawyer. If you’re considering going pro se, chances are you are not actually a lawyer; however, this does not matter to the judge. They will treat you as though you were a lawyer and will expect the same level of professionalism from you. This is why determining if you truly wish to go pro se is so significant. It can be especially scary to have a case where you are against someone who does have an attorney. They will not “go easy” on you and will do whatever they can to help their own client. Defending yourself in court is not for everyone and should only be done if you truly believe it will be the better option.

Where to Get Information to File or Defend Yourself

If you have chosen to go pro se, you may have some questions regarding where you can start and what resources you can use. If you are in the state of Florida, a good place to start is the Florida Supreme Court’s page on representing yourself. It might also be worth seeking legal advice from an attorney who can also point you in the right direction. They can help you with determining whether you should ultimately go pro se, and if you choose to, they can give you advice on what to do.

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