Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Defending Yourself

I was in court yesterday for a preliminary hearing on a felony case and sat through two trials in which both criminal defendants were attempting to represent themselves. If it wasn't so sad it would have been funny to see them try to act like lawyers.

I've often commented that practice law consists of learning the "magic words." If you know the magic words, it's easy. If you don't, it's impossible.

Yesterday, one of the defendants was attempting to get photographs into evidence. He didn't know that you have to ask the witness if the photograph accurately depicts the conditions in the picture at the time it was taken. The judge tried to feed it to him, but he still couldn't get them admitted. He didn't know the magic words.

Both defendants lost. One was sentenced to 30 days, suspended. The other received a substantial fine. I thought both cases were winnable, if they had a lawyer.

I wasn't present in court when they were arraigned. I don't know if they chose to represent themselves or just fell into the crack of not being able to afford a lawyer while not qualifying for a public defender. If it's the latter, I don't feel sorry for them. There ought to be a crime called "Being Stupid." If it's the former, and they just fell in the crack in the system, then I do feel badly for them and point out that we really need to figure out how to provide lawyers for everyone who needs one.


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