Self-representation at a criminal trial?

There are a number of ways you can deal with a criminal trial. Most commonly, people hire an experienced attorney. Occasionally, people represent themselves “pro se”. This article will address some of the rights and steps associated with self-representation.


Can I represent myself at trial?

Many people have probably heard the saying “a lawyer who represents themselves has a fool for a client.”  While it can feel odd picking someone else to advocate for you, representing yourself in a setting you are (hopefully) unfamiliar with isn’t necessarily the right call either.  But the answer is yes.  Constitutionally, yes, you can represent yourself, if a few conditions are met.

First – you have to let the judge know you want to represent yourself.

Second – you have to honestly intend to represent yourself.  Self-representation isn’t “to be used as a tactic for delay, for disruption, for distortion of the system, or for manipulation of the trial process.  If you don’t tell the judge early enough that you want to represent yourself, you’ll waive the right.  The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held in United States v. Dunlap that once a trial has started, the decision to allow a defendant to proceed pro se is up to the judge.

Third – and importantly, the judge has to determine the defendant is aware of what they’re doing.  The court might talk about this in terms of “competence,” but “competence” here has a different meaning than when we’re talking about “competence” to stand trial.  In the Supreme Court case Indiana v. Edwards, 554 U.S. 164 (2008),  the defendant suffered from schizophrenia and yet was still competent to stand trial.  Even so, the trial judge held Edwards wasn’t competent to represent himself, even though he wanted to.  The constitutional requirement someone is competent to stand trial is different than the requirement that someone be competent enough to represent themselves.

To determine competence to represent yourself, judges will look at a lot of things like your age, education, and the consequences of the crime charged.  All of these factors are important, not just one.  Judges should also discuss the nature of the charges, the statutory offenses included within them, the range of allowable punishments thereunder, possible defenses to the charges and circumstances in mitigation thereof, and all other facts essential to a broad understanding of the whole matter. This discussion is cursory, designed to bring awareness; it is not legal advice.


Can I have a lawyer help me at trial?

If you choose self-representation but still want the court to appoint a lawyer to help (known as standby counsel), you still have to waive your right to an attorney.  A defendant does not have an absolute right to both self-representation and the assistance of counsel. The court can appoint standby counsel even if the defendant doesn’t want the help. 

Standby counsel does very little, if anything, at trial.  They may not even sit next to the defendant.  This is because they don’t want to give the jury the idea that the defendant isn’t in control of presenting their own defense.  If you invite standby counsel to help, it’s assumed you’re OK with the attorney taking control of the case and assisting as necessary.  If you want to represent yourself after you’ve asked for help, make it clear that you want to represent yourself . . . again.


Can I have an attorney represent me at trial?

Yes.  The right to representation by counsel in a criminal proceeding is a fundamental right.  The Sixth Amendment states that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.”  If you’re going to hire your own attorney, a judge should allow that attorney to represent you unless they have “good cause” not to.  Otherwise, this is a violation of the Sixth Amendment, and the defendant may be entitled to relief. Even if you can’t afford an attorney, you may have the right for one to be appointed to you, especially if a there is a risk jail time or the actual deprivation of a person’s liberty.

You don’t, however, have the right to the public defender of your choosing.

It is absolutely critical to have an attorney (specifically, a criminal defense attorney) represent you at trial.  Attorneys are held to high standards.  The constitutional right to counsel means competent counsel.  A defendant who was found guilty may be entitled to relief if they can show an attorney didn’t provide adequate representation.  To determine if relief is available, there is a two-part test.  First, the attorney’s performance has to be below an objective standard of reasonableness.”  Second, it has to result in prejudice to the defendant. If you represent yourself, you’ve lost this argument without ever getting the opportunity to make this argument. A defendant who represents himself cannot thereafter complain that the quality of his defense denied him effective assistance of counsel.

Self-representation has its drawbacks but if you’re adamant about representing yourself at trial — for financial reasons because you’re convinced that no one will represent your interests as zealously as you will yourself, or for other reasons — make sure to educate yourself on the criminal process and what to expect.

Children and Divorce

For children, divorce can be an especially sad, stressful, and confusing time. At any age, kids may feel shocked, uncertain, or angry at the prospect of mom and dad splitting up. They may even feel guilty, blaming themselves for the problems at home. While it’s normal for a child to grieve the breakup of the family, as a parent there’s plenty you can do to make the process less painful for your kids. Divorce is never a seamless process, but these tips can help your children cope with the upheaval of a breakup and come out the other side more resilient, more understanding, and even with a closer bond to both parents.


How can I help my child through the divorce?

A separation or divorce is a highly stressful and emotional experience for everyone involved, but children often feel that their whole world has turned upside down. At any age, it can be traumatic to witness the dissolution of your parents’ marriage and the breakup of the family. Inevitably, such a transitional time doesn’t happen without some measure of grief and hardship, but you can dramatically reduce your children’s pain by making their well-being your top priority.

Your patience, reassurance, and listening ear can minimize tension as your children learn to cope with unfamiliar circumstances. By providing routines your kids can rely on, you remind them that they can count on you for stability, structure, and care. And by maintaining a working relationship with your ex, you can help your kids avoid the stress and anguish that comes with watching parents in conflict. With your support, your kids can not only successfully navigate this unsettling time, but even emerge from it feeling loved, confident, and strong.


How to tell kids about divorce

When it comes to telling your kids about your divorce, many parents freeze up. Make the conversation a little easier on both yourself and your children by preparing what you’re going to say before you sit down to talk. If you can anticipate tough questions, deal with your own anxieties ahead of time, and plan carefully what you’ll be telling them, you will be better equipped to help your children handle the news.


Help your child grieve the divorce

For kids, divorce can feel like an intense loss—the loss of a parent, the loss of the family unit, or simply the loss of the life they knew. You can help your children grieve their loss and adjust to new circumstances by helping them express their emotions.

Listen. Encourage your child to share their feelings and really
listen to them. They may be feeling sadness, loss or frustration about things you may not have expected.

Help them find words for their feelings. It’s normal for children to have difficulty expressing their feelings. You can help them by noticing their moods and encouraging them to talk.

Let them be honest. Children might be reluctant to share their true feelings for fear of hurting you. Let them know that whatever they say is okay. They may blame you for the divorce but if they aren’t able to share their honest feelings, they will have a harder time working through them.

Make talking about the divorce an ongoing process. As children age and mature, they often have new questions, feelings, or concerns about what happened, so you may want to go over the same ground again and again.

Acknowledge their feelings. You may not be able to fix their problems or change their sadness to happiness, but it is important for you to acknowledge their feelings rather than dismissing them. You can also inspire trust by showing that you understand.


Seek support

At the very least, divorce is complicated and stressful—and can be devastating without support.

Lean on friends. Talk face-to-face with friends or a support group about any difficult emotions you’re feeling—such as bitterness, anger, frustration—so you don’t take it out on your kids. If you’ve neglected your social circle while being married and don’t feel you have anyone to confide in, it’s never too late to build new friendships.

Never vent negative feelings to your child. Whatever you do, do not use your child to talk it out like you would with a friend.

Keep laughing. Try to inject humor and play into your life and the lives of your children as much as you can; it can relieve stress and give you all a break from sadness and anger.

See a therapist. If you are feeling intense anger, fear, grief, shame, or guilt, find a professional to help you work through those feelings.

Workers’ compensation insurance

Workers’ compensation insurance provides medical and wage benefits to people who are injured or become ill at work.  The coverage is mandated by each state and the wage and medical benefits vary by state.  Workers’ compensation is considered social insurance because it relies on a social contract between management and labor, wherein exchange for purchasing workers’ compensation insurance, business owners are protected from civil suits from their workers who become injured on the job.  Each party benefits yet has limitations.  Workers’ compensation insurance is purchased by businesses, and is underwritten by insurance companies and, in some states, underwritten by publicly supported state funds.


Workers’ compensation insurance definition

Workers’ compensation provides medical expenses, lost wages, and rehabilitation costs to employees who are injured or become ill “in the course and scope” of their job.  It also pays death benefits to families of employees who are killed on the job.


How is the cost of workers’ compensation insurance determined? 

Similar businesses in each state, that exhibit comparable workplace injury patterns and costs, are grouped into “classes.”  Rates are determined for each class based on the prior five years of loss costs for all businesses within that class.  This provides an equitable system where rates are charged commensurate with the actual loss experience of the class of business.  Economic factors for each state are then overlaid onto this data to determine the rate for each class in a given state.  A system called “experience rating” allows for modification of the class rates based on the loss history of an individual business.  This system provides business owners with a significant amount of control over the cost of their workers’ compensation premium – safe businesses are rewarded with lower premiums and unsafe businesses are penalized with higher premiums.


Who is required to carry workers’ compensation insurance?

All states, with a small number of exceptions, require businesses with employees who are not owners, to purchased workers’ compensation coverage for those employees. Businesses that fail to provide workers’ compensation coverage can face severe and costly repercussions including payment of claims out of pocket, fines and possible imprisonment, as well as possibly losing the right to conduct business in the state. 

Accident Caused By A Drunk Driver

If you are harmed in a drunk driving accident, you may want to seek compensation for your injuries. In Missouri, an experienced lawyer could help you get damages not only from the drunk driver but from the bar that overserved them as well, through what is known as a dram shop case.

However, navigating through these claims can be a long and daunting process. The following are some ways that consulting with a personal injury lawyer on a dram shop case could result in a more beneficial outcome.


1. Attorneys Could Help Obtain the Appropriate Evidence to Prove Liability

Typically, injury cases are based on negligence. However, for dram shop cases, liability is based on recklessness or intentional conduct. This means that you must prove that the bar or establishment was consciously acting in a manner the could result in substantial risk.

In dram shop cases, this usually means victims must prove that the bar intentionally served alcohol to a patron who was clearly already intoxicated. A skilled lawyer could help you collect proper evidence and documentation to show that the bar acted in a reckless manner.


2. Personal Injury Lawyers Have Unique Connections and Knowledge Concerning Dram Shop Law

Lawyers often have working relationships with judges, prosecutors, and others in the legal process that help cases move more smoothly. Additionally, attorneys know more about local nuances in the law that you may not.

For example, Missouri does not have a specific law pertaining to dram shop cases. However, courts more often recognize these claims if they are handled correctly by an accomplished attorney.


3. Attorneys Could Help File Your Dram Shop Claim in a Timely Manner

It is important to note that the statute of limitations for filing a dram shop lawsuit is only three years after the accident occurred. In order to file a claim, you must have the necessary evidence and documentation.

This often takes much longer to do when you do not have a lawyer guiding you through the process. Therefore, if you enlist the help of a personal injury lawyer, you may be more likely to file your claim and receive your reward more quickly.


4. Personal Injury Lawyers Could Negotiate Proper Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are a special category of compensation that goes beyond compensatory damages. Negotiating for these types of damages can only be achieved by a seasoned attorney who can prove that the bar or restaurant acted in an extremely reckless manner.

Also, according to Missouri law, punitive damages can only be received if they are specifically requested. If you do not have a lawyer by your side, you may miss the opportunity to negotiate for these types of damages.


5. Lawyers are Better Equipped to Deal with the Insurance Companies

Claim adjusters are trained to keep their company’s bottom line in mind when they are examining a car accident claim. Therefore, it can be beneficial to have a lawyer who could fight for your best interests and maximize the value of your claim.

At Almond, Gould & Brady LLC, we have a team of seasoned attorneys that specialize in cases such as these. If you or someone you know has been involved in a car accident with a driver who was overserved, get in touch with us today about scheduling a consultation.