Skip to Content

5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Represent Yourself in a Trial

The man accused of killing 6 people at the 2021 Waukesha Christmas parade was granted his request to represent himself at trial. Darrell Brooks is charged with 77 counts, including 6 counts of first-degree intentional homicide.

After initially pleading not guilty in February 2022, he changed his plea to not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect three months later. In September he requested to fire his legal team and represent himself at trial. His public defender filed a motion to withdraw as his attorney. The Waukesha district attorney had no issue with him representing himself if the request did not delay the trial. The trial started as scheduled on Oct. 3.

Representing oneself is called proceeding “pro se” – a Latin term meaning “for oneself, on one’s own behalf.” Wisconsin law allows a person to proceed pro se if the request is made voluntarily and they have the competence or capacity for self-representation.

Wisconsin will allow defendants to waive counsel but doing so is ill-advised for these 5 reasons.

Reason 1: Lack of Legal Knowledge

Lawyers spend years learning about the law and must pass a rigorous bar exam before they can go into legal practice. Non-lawyers representing themselves will not have the education or experience that would benefit them throughout the criminal process. Attorneys typically know the judge, clerk, and bailiffs. Defendants do not have that same level of familiarity. In addition to the education and relationships, attorneys also know how to effectively interview witnesses and understand how and when to make objections or motions. They also typically do not understand the art and science behind a strong closing argument.

Reason 2: Little Understanding of Court Rules

Courtrooms have protocols and rules that must be followed. An attorney knows these expectations. They’ve been in the situations hundreds if not thousands of times. Defendants representing themselves will still have to abide by the same rules. Judges have little patience for ignorance of the rules and defendants proceeding pro se are more likely to lose the respect of the judge, and you cannot ask for the judge’s help in the middle of the trial.

Reason 3: Self-Incrimination Is More Likely

The lack of legal knowledge and courtroom procedures also means that a defendant is more likely to say something they shouldn’t and harm their case in the process. People have a tendency to overshare, which can open them up for more questions on cross-examination. The prosecutors on the other side know how to strategically ask questions to elicit the answers they want. Not having the background of an attorney leaves you vulnerable to their tactics and more likely to incriminate yourself.

Reason 4: No Guidance from Judges or Court Staff

People inexperienced in the law might think they can ask questions and get help from court officials along the way. They cannot legally provide you with advice or help in any way. Doing so creates the perception that they are biased in your favor. They cannot even help defendants fill out forms. are prohibited from filling out forms or providing case evaluation or strategy. Court staff members are prohibited from giving you legal advice. Judges will ensure defendants understand their legal rights, but that is the extent of their assistance.

Reason 5: Inability to Ignore Emotions

Courtrooms are not the place for outbursts. An attorney knows the importance of maintaining objectivity and keeping emotions in check. Most defendants who represent themselves find it difficult to separate their feelings from the case. A defendant who explodes in anger or frustration will lose credibility with the jury. Emotional arguments also do not carry the same weight as legal arguments that attack the evidence in the case.

Put Your Defense in the Hands of an Experienced Attorney

Someone might think that no one can be as committed to their defense as they are. Criminal defense Attorney Christopher Cherella has the compassion and passion to do everything within legal limits to help his clients.

If you need surgery, you trust a surgeon with specific experience and education with that specific surgery. Your life is similarly on the line when you are accused of a crime. The rest of your life can be impacted by the outcome. Your best defense strategy is to hire our experienced attorney at the Law Offices of Anthony J. Cherella.

He’s available 24/7 to provide legal advice and support. Call (414) 882-8382 to schedule a consultation. You can also reach him by completing our online form.