Do I need a lawyer for my criminal case?
A person who goes to court without being represented by a lawyer is called “self-represented” or “pro see.” President Lincoln said that a person who represents themselves has a fool for a client.
“How important is having a lawyer if I’m facing criminal charges?”
Legal representation for someone charged with a felony or misdemeanor is so critically important that the right to an attorney is enshrined in the 6th Amendment to the United States Constitution. If you face accusations of criminal or inappropriate activity, even if you are entirely innocent, an experienced lawyer is essential to protect and defend you. The American judicial system is perhaps the best in the world; however, thousands of innocent defendants are convicted wrongfully. In many of these cases, the defendant’s actual innocence is undiscovered for many years, and the defendant will have potentially lost years of their life sitting in prison for no reason. In less serious matters, a wrongful conviction can result in unemployability, inability to get a promotion, deportation or inadmissibility, damaged credit, destroyed reputation, loss of custody or visitation rights, and more. If you wonder, “do I need a criminal lawyer?” the answer is very likely, “yes!”
Self-Representation is a Recipe For Disaster
You need a lawyer if:
- You want legal advice.
- You do not fully understand papers filed in court.
- You cannot afford to lose your case.
- You want a favorable outcome.
- You face criminal charges (felony, misdemeanor, or ordinance violation).
- You want to sue someone but don’t know the legal theory or basis for your claim.
You may not need a lawyer if: (these are only examples)
- You are NOT charged or accused of a criminal offense.
- You are in a lawsuit for money, and the outcome is not overly important
- The fees for hiring a decent lawyer exceed the value of the lawsuit
- You don’t get overly nervous speaking in public, like in a courtroom
- You are organized and keep accurate records
- You are familiar with the Michigan Court Rules and the Rules of Evidence.
- You have time to prepare papers, make copies, learn the required steps, file papers with the court, do legal research, draft complex pleadings, and attend court hearings.
- Your case is relatively simple, and no one will come forward to argue against what you want.
“Do I need a lawyer if I’m charged with a crime?”
The truth is, no matter how smart or well-educated you are, the criminal justice system makes it virtually impossible to do a competent job of representing yourself. Courts and the law are designed so those trained in the applicable rules have the best chance of successfully traversing through the system. Each criminal case is unique, and only a specialist who is experienced in assessing the particulars of a case—and in dealing with the many variables that come up in every case—can provide the type of representation that every criminal defendant needs to receive justice. Criminal defense lawyers do much more than simply question witnesses in court.
For example, defense lawyers:
- Negotiate “deals” with prosecutors, often arranging for reduced charges and lesser sentences. These “deals” are frequently called plea bargains, sentence agreements, or Cobb’s Agreements. By contrast, prosecutors may be uncooperative with self-represented defendants and fail to disclose favorable options or sentencing laws.
- Understand the possible hidden costs of pleading guilty that a self-represented person might not know. For example, a plea under advisement with a dismissal is still a conviction for immigration purposes.
- Formulate sentencing programs tailored to a client’s specific needs, often helping defendants avoid future brushes with the criminal justice system. A lawyer who has extensive experience can frequently provide a sentencing court with reasonable alternatives to what might otherwise be a harsh or tough sentence.
- Provide defendants with a reality check—a knowledgeable, objective perspective on their situation and what is likely to happen should their cases go to trial. This perspective is vital for defendants trying to decide whether to accept a prosecutor’s offered a plea bargain. The fact is that innocent people are convicted every day. A lawyer can help you understand the realities of your case so that you can make the most intelligent, informed decisions.
- Are familiar with important legal rules that people representing themselves would find almost impossible to locate or understand on their own. Many criminal laws and rules are hidden in court interpretations of federal and state statutes and constitutions. For example, understanding what may constitute an unreasonable search and seizure, the basis of a Motion to Suppress or Dismiss, often requires familiarity with a vast array of state and federal appellate court opinions.
- Help defendants cope with the fear, embarrassment, reduced self-esteem, and anxiety that criminal charges tend to produce in many people (this is especially true in court, where unrepresented defendants often feel less worthy than represented defendants).
- Are familiar with scientific principles to impeach prosecution evidence like DNA, blood spatter, fingerprints, and breath and alcohol tests (in OWI or DUI cases).
- Are familiar with local court customs and procedures that are unwritten and based on tradition. For example, a defense lawyer may know which prosecutor has the authority to settle a case, what arguments are likely to appeal to that prosecutor, and what arguments are historically most persuasive with any particular judge.
- Spend time on a case that a defendant cannot afford to spend. Defendants who can afford to hire a lawyer are usually employed and therefore lack the time (and energy) to devote to such time-consuming activities as gathering and examining documents, doing legal research, and talking to witnesses.
- Gather information from prosecution witnesses. Witnesses often fear people accused of crimes and refuse to speak to people representing themselves. Witnesses are more likely to talk to defense attorneys or their investigators (who also have a better idea of what information can be most helpful and admissible in court).
- Hire and manage investigators. Investigators may be able to believably impeach (contradict) prosecution witnesses who embellish their stories at trial. By contrast, it is far less effective for a defendant to testify that “the prosecution witness told me something different before trial.”
What are the possible consequences of a criminal conviction? (Some Examples)
- Loss of employment or inability to advance in employment.
- Loss of public benefits or ineligibility to receive public assistance.
- Inability to achieve licensure in a professional field or prohibition from certain types of employment.
- Inability to obtain or qualify for credit, a loan, or a mortgage.
- A negative impact on custody, visitation with children, and parental rights.
- Impaired public reputation and social stigma.
- Ineligibility for Federal Health Care Programs (42 U.S.C. § 1320a-7).
- Eligibility for Student Grants and Loans (20 U.S.C. § 1091).
- Inability to lawfully possess a firearm or obtain a concealed weapons permit.
- Inability to pass a background check.
- Inability to serve on a jury or vote.
- Loss of driver’s license or driving privileges
Michigan Criminal Defense Attorney
At LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C., we understand that hiring a criminal defense lawyer is never convenient or enjoyable. But having a top defense attorney by your side when you’re facing felony or misdemeanor charges is essential. We specialize in criminal defense, and our mission is to bring value to our clients and achieve their goals through a commitment to results, achievement, and aggressive advocacy. Our practice focuses primarily on the individual, providing a full range of legal services from pre-trial work through to the appellate process. Our criminal practice extends to all felony and misdemeanor charges in federal and state courts. When you need an attorney who will fight for you like family, please call LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. for a free case evaluation and consultation.
Call us today at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation or complete a Request for Assistance Form. We will contact you promptly and find a way to help you.