If you’re into true crime or you’re old enough to remember sensational news stories in the ‘80s, then you probably recognize Ted Bundy. One of the most well-known American serial killers, Ted Bundy confessed to killing 30 women, although experts believe that the number is higher.
One interesting fact about Ted Bundy is that he attended law school, though he never finished it. When he was tried for the attack on four women from Florida State University and 12-year-old Kimberly Leach’s murder, he didn’t plead guilty despite his lawyer’s advice. Instead, he proceeded to head his own legal defense team.
In short, he represented himself—and was promptly found guilty and sentenced to death.
Unfortunately, Ted Bundy isn’t the only person to represent himself in a criminal trial. In the 1975 case Faretta v. California, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that defendants can legally refuse counsel and represent themselves instead. As long as the judge determines that a defendant is competent for fairness, then they can refuse to get an attorney and choose self-representation instead.
Some of the reasons a defendant might choose this path are:
- They cannot afford the lawyer’s fees
- They can afford a lawyer, but they think the likely punishment is not severe enough to justify getting a lawyer
- They plan to plead guilty and think hiring a lawyer is moot
- They believe that the lawyer representing them isn’t competent, like what happened with Ted Bundy
If you’ve been accused of a crime, are about to go on trial, and thinking of representing yourself, you might want to reconsider this option. Below are a few reasons representing yourself in court is a bad idea:
1. Your rights might be infringed upon
A lawyer’s job is to know your rights and help you uphold them. Without their expertise, it’s up to you to know your rights and fight for them. During court proceedings or even outside of court, others might take advantage of your inexperience by infringing upon your rights. What’s worse is, you might not recognize that it’s happening.
2. You might fail to follow the rules and procedures in court
Lawyers are well-versed in the regulations of the court during litigation. If you represent yourself with little to no knowledge of how court proceedings go, you might unknowingly break some rules. For example, submitting documents by a specific date to a particular person. If you fail to do so, the judge isn’t likely to give you a pass, and you cannot claim ignorance since you were deemed capable enough to represent yourself.
3. You might say incriminating statements
Lawyers know the law inside out, and they are well-trained to handle the litigation process. They know what to ask and will advise you on what you can and cannot say. Since you lack this experience, you might say things that you think are okay, but the opposition can use it against you.
As you can see, representing yourself, especially when the crime you’ve been accused of is serious, isn’t advisable. Just look at our earlier example, Ted Bundy. Whatever reason you might have for not being able to hire an attorney, it’s not worth the risk of possibly getting imprisoned if you fail to represent yourself properly.