Justice You Deserve
5 Reasons Not to Represent Yourself in Criminal Court in Massachusetts
By Kevin R. Collins, Esq.
When a person is charged with a crime, it is undoubtedly a confusing time. Many worry whether they will face jail time, what will appear on their criminal record, and how long it will take to resolve the case. The one issue that should not be a question is, “Should I represent myself in court?” The answer is simple; and here are five reasons why.
5. Once You Are Arraigned, an Entry Will Appear on Your Criminal Record Forever
It is not uncommon for a person charged with a crime to appear for their arraignment with little idea of what to expect. Even the term “arraignment” is foreign to most. After receiving a summons in the mail, many people arrive at the courthouse and ask the security personnel how to proceed. They eventually make their way into the courtroom and wait for their case to be called.
This is not the first time that one should consider whether to have an attorney represent them or not.
Once the case is called and the charges are read, the “arraignment” has taken place. This brief formality may not seem of any consequence, but what most people do not realize is that by having their case “arraigned”, they will now have an entry on their criminal record. Even if their case is later dismissed, the entry will still remain on their record forever, unless it is properly sealed. At any future date, if there is a background check for a job, a position where one works with children, an application for a firearm license, or a campaign for public office, this entry will appear.
An experienced criminal attorney may be able to resolve your case prior to your being arraigned. This means you will not have any entry on your criminal record. If your case is among the many that can be resolved prior to arraignment, it is critical to work with an attorney who has relationships with the prosecutor and the judge and will be able to obtain this great resolution for you.
4. There Are a Variety of Motions That Can Be Filed to Assist Your Defense
The internet is a very powerful tool. It allows people to access an enormous amount of information in a very short time. Often those who are faced with a criminal case will consult the internet for ideas on how to proceed. While often helpful, the internet is not a replacement for years of law school training, the bar exam, and years of practical experience.
The internet does not prepare you to review a police report with an eye towards filing any of these possible motions:
- Motion to preserve
- Motion to dismiss
- Motion to suppress evidence
- Motion for speedy trial
- Motion to exclude testimony
- Motion to exclude opinions
- Motion to advise the jury
These are just a few tools available to a well-trained attorney. If you seek to represent yourself, you will not be equipped to spot the necessary issues in your case and have the best opportunity to shape your defense. It is always best to work with an attorney who has experience in filing and arguing these motions.
Knowing that these available motions exist is important, but knowing how to win them is key. On many occasions, less-experienced attorneys will file a motion provided to them by a colleague. The less-experienced attorney may not be fully aware that the law has changed since the motion was drafted. Having outdated law in a motion is sure to embarrass the attorney and be viewed poorly by a judge. It is critical to have an attorney who not only files motions, but who knows the law in them and understands how to persuade the judge to rule the way that favors you.
3. There Are Uses for a Private Investigator Which You May Not Have Considered
A private investigator can be a useful member of the criminal defense team. Whether it is utilizing law enforcement databases to track down a witness, interviewing an alleged victim, producing detailed diagrams of the crime scene, or simply providing another viewpoint from which to analyze the case, there are countless reasons to work with an investigator. Knowing which investigator to use, however, is often the problem.
Many law enforcement officials become private investigators after they retire. But just as there are police officers that excel at investigation and those who do not, the same is true for private investigators. Working with the right person is critical.
If you believe that an investigator may assist in your defense, it will take more than an internet search to find the right person. An experienced criminal defense attorney has longstanding relationships with private investigators and will know which ones will fit best with your case. It makes sense to hire a criminal defense attorney for this purpose alone.
2. Finding and Utilizing an Expert Witness Is Harder Than You Think
Many people are familiar with expert witnesses because of their appearance on television or movie depictions of criminal trials. But knowing what type of expert witness to hire, which specific witness of that expertise to hire, and how to prepare them for their testimony are matters that take much time and experience to master. There are countless expert witnesses who may assist in a criminal defense.
A gunshot residue expert may help in demonstrating that clothing worn by the suspect proves they could not have shot a firearm as accused. A fingerprint expert may demonstrate that more than one person could have been at the scene of the crime. A ballistics expert may be able to prove that a weapon was not operable and thus could not have been used in a crime. Experts like chemists, forensic pathologists, and use of force trainers are used everyday in court. Knowing that these experts exist is important, but it is only the first step.
If an expert witness may be utilized in a case, the next step is to locate, retain, and work with that expert, possibly through trial. There are countless expert witnesses available to work on criminal cases. Many expert witnesses are effective, but many are not. When it comes to fees, every expert has a different rate, and those fees may exceed the budget you have for your defense. It is beneficial to work with an attorney who has relationships with expert witnesses and knows which expert may be best for your case.
After a specific witness is retained, the last step is to present the facts of the case to the expert, obtain their opinion, and elicit that opinion in a trial setting. Many attorneys are not experienced at this phase of the case because most cases do not go to trial. Finding an attorney who has extensive trial experience and knows how to distill complicated matters down to a simple series of questions and answers for a jury to digest may make the difference in your case.
1. Even Other Attorneys (Who Do Not Practice Criminal Law) Hire Criminal Defense Attorneys
It is a common myth that because attorneys graduated from law school, they are capable of effectively performing any legal task. The same way that cardiologists do not treat back pain, attorneys who specialize in one area typically do not practice in other legal areas. Because of that, even experienced attorneys will hire a criminal defense attorney if they face charges in criminal court.
If an attorney with years of legal experience will still hire a criminal defense attorney when they face charges, then so should you. The criminal justice world is complicated and small. There are a number of nuances to criminal practice, countless potentially serious pitfalls, and endless benefits to knowing the key players in the courthouse. Hiring a good criminal defense attorney will ensure that you have the best possible chance at success.
If you are facing criminal charges, you should absolutely consider hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney to defend your rights and protect your liberty.
Kevin R. Collins is a seasoned litigator with extensive experience in criminal law cases. Prior to working as a criminal defense attorney, Attorney Collins served as an Assistant District Attorney with the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts, prosecuting cases in both District and Superior Court.
Attorney Collins is experienced in all phases of criminal cases including investigation, witness preparation, motion drafting and argument, jury selection, and trial practice. He represents individuals charged with crimes in all District and Superior Courts in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.