It's rarely a good idea to represent yourself in a criminal case,
especially when jail time or prison is a possibility if you lose. In a
few situations, however, it may make sense to be your own lawyer.
Defendants cannot represent themselves unless a judge determines that they are competent to do so. The community as a whole has an interest in achieving justice. A trial in which an incompetent defendant self-represents does not constitute a fair trial.
As a general rule, the less severe the charged crime, the more sensible self-representation may be. Defendants charged with minor traffic offenses should rarely hire an attorney; defendants charged with serious misdemeanors and felonies should rarely be without one.
It's not unheard of for a defendant considering self-representation to seek out an attorney willing to serve as a legal coach. The idea of a legal coach is to combine an attorney’s knowledge with the defendant’s time. Because a defendant pays only for the periodic use of the attorney’s time, the cost of a legal coach should be far less than turning a case over to a private attorney.
On November 5, 2009, Army psychiatrist Nidal Hassan opened fire at Fort Hood, Texas, killing 13 people and wounding another 31. There isn’t much doubt about these facts since, when representing himself at his August, 2013 trial, he admitted them.
There are many reasons why defendants may wish to represent themselves in a criminal trial. Although it is usually wise to get a lawyer, sometimes it's not necessary. The key to deciding if you need a lawyer is to look at the punishment you'll face if convicted. The harsher the potential punishment, the more important it is that you are represented by counsel.
Only licensed attorneys can represent defendants in court. For example, one spouse who is not a lawyer can’t represent another spouse, and a nonlawyer parent can’t represent a child. No matter how much a defendant trusts and respects a relative or friend, defendants must choose between self-representation and representation by an attorney.