Self-Representation on Appeal

Defendants should think long and hard before representing themselves at trial or on appeal.

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Some defendants, dissatisfied with the representation they received at trial, decide to represent themselves on appeal. Others started out representing themselves and simply continue to do so after conviction. But, just like self-representation at trial, representing oneself on appeal is extremely risky.

Self-representation—whether in trial or appellate courts—is almost always not advisable because:

  • the rules are complex
  • the stakes—liberty or life—are usually higher than in civil cases, where money is at issue, and
  • court personnel, judges, and (at the trial level) jurors are often hostile toward self-represented defendants.

Particularly Complex

Appeals can be even more convoluted than trials. They tend to be more formal and to involve more written work and pickier rules. Appellate courts have technical requirements for every aspect of appellate practice, particularly when it comes to written briefs. Rules for briefs often specify the number of pages, type and color of paper, binding, size of spacing, and even print type.

For these reasons, and more importantly, because law is complex and nuanced, drafting an appellate brief can be difficult even for an experienced attorney specializing in appeals. Counsel may have to undertake extensive legal research to effectively understand and make appropriate references to necessary statutes, court cases, and administrative regulations, and sometimes even the state or federal constitution. Appellate courts also have their own sets of rules for oral arguments, which may differ from the rules in trial courts.

Thus, even defendants who represented themselves at trial are well advised to us an attorney for an appeal or writ.

Get a Lawyer

If you’ve been convicted of a crime and want to challenge the conviction or sentence, consult an experienced criminal appellate lawyer. Appellate lawyers have special expertise regarding the appeals process and can provide a neutral analysis of your chances.

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