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By Ariel Rief, Esq.

Today more and more people facing criminal charges are embracing the American spirit and taking a DIY approach to their court case. Under the right circumstances, representing yourself without a lawyer, known as “pro per” [fn. 1], can be a very smart way to save thousands while maintaining total control over your case.


There are other big advantages, too. First, judges particularly don’t want pro per cases going to trial so they'll often squeeze prosecutors to offer you a better deal. Second, because most pro per defendants aren’t lawyers, expectations are low in court, which provides a unique opportunity to make a powerful impression on judges and prosecutors if you show up prepared.


Despite the potential advantages, pro per defendants commonly make 3 critical errors, which is why self-representation is generally not recommended in a criminal case. But if you AVOID these mistakes, you may find that taking matters into your hands wasn’t such a bad idea after all. 


MISTAKE #1: Representing yourself in the wrong kind of case.


Self-representation is not recommended in:

  • any felony;

  • any case accusing you of some kind of assault, even as a misdemeanor; and

  • any case with potential immigration consequences.


Instead, stick to low-level, non-violent misdemeanors (such as the ones listed HERE).


MISTAKE #2: Representing yourself if you intend to go to trial.


If you plan to conduct investigations and cross-examine victims or witnesses in a jury trial, leave it to the professionals.


On the other hand, if you’re open to accepting responsibility early to quickly wrap up your minor case by paying a fine, completing some classes, community service, or some other light probation terms, then paying a high-priced lawyer isn’t always necessary.


MISTAKE #3: Representing yourself without “advisory counsel.”


Self-representation is not recommended, no matter how minor your case is, without first having an experienced lawyer review all the evidence. Criminal lawyers can ensure whether the prosecution's evidence is strong enough to convict you before you sell yourself short in negotiations. But lawyers are expensive and public defenders aren't necessarily free, either. [fn. 2]


A vastly overlooked resource to get the legal help you need on a budget is to hire an “advisory counsel” (also known as “standby counsel”)—a criminal defense lawyer who ADVISES you and performs most of the same functions as a fully retained lawyer but doesn't officially represent you in court. It’s a very savvy way to get assistance from a criminal lawyer without breaking the bank!


Golden State Lawyer's "Advisory Counsel" Legal Services


As an experienced criminal defense lawyer and former prosecutor who's defended clients ranging from minor misdemeanors to murder, you'll get the legal assistance you need to achieve TOP results in your case—all for only $599!


I'll provide useful forms, help you to collect and review all the evidence, plus will identify the most important issues and points to focus on when you go to court.


No matter where you are in California, I'll guide you virtually (via Zoom video conferencing or over the phone), so that you're prepared to navigate the court and criminal justice system. You'll know just what to say and do when you meet the judge and prosecutor to make a far better impression than any other pro per defendant. THAT will help resolve your case the best possible way—even better potentially than having a high-priced lawyer!


If you'd like a FREE consultation to go over whether having advisory counsel makes sense for you, please click here. Thank you.




[1You have a constitutional right to represent yourself in a criminal case without the assistance of a lawyer. (See Faretta v. California (1975) 422 U.S. 806.)  It's known as going “pro se” or "pro perfrom the Latin phrase, "in propia persona," which means "in one's own person."

[2] If you are indigent, you are entitled to a court-appointed lawyer—typically a public defenderfree of charge. But if you cannot prove your income is below a certain amount, the county may send you a sizable bill at the end of a case seeking reimbursement for the legal services provided.

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