Today's St. Petersburg Times has very interesting article on the judicial perspective on representing yourself on criminal charges. As a general rule, it's a bad idea. First, it blows any post-conviction opportunities. Second, one of the primary advantages of hiring an attorney is objective legal advice. 'Advice' in that last sentence, if you notice, had two adjectives. The first is objective. This means that your lawyer generally does not have a stake in the case. Your lawyer is hired to represent you but at the end of the day, it is the client, not the lawyer, that has to serve any jail time. Further, the lawyer does not (or at least in the vast majority of the cases I've seen) have any emotional impediments or attachments in the case. I've sen several cases in which a client swears up and down that the complaining witness is lying. Maybe so. But if that witness is credible and that evidence is most likely to be believed by a jury, someone needs to tell the client to ignore the lying witness and focus on evidence. That person is the lawyer.
The second adjective is 'legal'. Despite what many of public defender clients want to believe, most of us do base our advice on what the law is. The actual state of the law varies a great deal from what many people think the law is. Some of these people went to Prison U. Law School and are quite persuasive in advising other inmates that the lawyer does not know her business. But hard as it may be to believe, if I or any other public defender routinely gives bad legal advice to my clients, I get fired. And my clients might be able to get new trials. But more than that, why would I (or anybody else for that matter) take this job just to roll over? Why should I be happy to lose? What motivation would any defense attorney have to sell out his client? If that is the public defender attitude, why not just join the DA's office? The work is easier, the public approval is certainly higher, there are more political opportunities after leaving the DA's office and finally, it would be a whole lot simpler to fry somebody as a DA than to join the public defender and give clients bad legal advice.
I think that part of the problem is that clients see the judge and the DA as doing their jobs. The DA is supposed to put them in jail. The judge is supposed to make rulings that frequently go against them. But their attorney is supposed to get them off, no matter how overwhelming the evidence of guilt. And if that does not happen, then it is not because the system works that way but because the defense attorney, particularly the public defender, did not do her job. In part to avoid this, people represent themselves. Bad decision. Do not do it. Get a lawyer, even if that lawyer is a public defender.