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Why Self-Representation is a Bad Idea

02-May-2014

Most of us know that when we have a serious problem to solve, turning to a professional for help is the best plan of action. 

Need a house built? Sure, you have a hammer and some nails, but without an architect, a builder, and a team of contractors, your home sweet home will be inhabitable.

Have a toothache? Well, you could take a rock and hammer it out à la Tom Hanks in Castaway, or you could call a trained dentist who safely and painlessly extract the tooth and cure the infection.

Is your appendix about to burst? I'm no doctor, but I'm fairly confident there is no way you can get it out yourself without dying in the process.

So what makes people think that representing themselves in a criminal case is any different? As the old adage goes, the man who represents himself has a fool for a client. That quote, or a variation, is often attributed to Abraham Lincoln, who was himself no dummy.

After all, having effective legal counsel is a constitutionally protected right. It is so important to get adequate representation that  if you cannot afford a lawyer, the state will appoint a public defender to your case.

Still, every so often, someone will decide that he or she can handle his or her own defense. Maybe the defendant is so tight that he or she is trying to save a few bucks in attorney's fees. Maybe the defendant has trust issues or paranoia that leads him or her to believe no one else will handle the case right. Maybe the defendant is a raging egomaniac who thinks that, even without education and experience, he or she is an expert on all things.

Regardless of one's misguided reasons for self-representation, it rarely, if ever, works out well.

Oklahoma County murder defendant Fabio DeMargio Brown, 26, is finding out the hard way. Brown is charged with two counts of first degree murder in the 2012 murder-for-hire deaths of his pregnant wife and her unborn child. Brown made a series of motions, including motions to suppress evidence and to require the state to pay for expert witnesses and psychological exams for his co-defendants. The judge's decisions follow:

  • Motion to quash for insufficient evidence - denied
  • Motion to suppress evidence of a VPO violation and arrest- denied
  • Motion to suppress evidence found in the victim's home because the defendant didn't consent to a search - denied
  • Motion for expert witnesses at the state's expense - denied
  • Motion for psychological exams for co-defendants - denied

How does that self-representation seem to be working out for you, Brown?

Three other co-defendant's in Brown's case have already pleaded guilty to the murder charges and been sentenced for their crimes. Maybe Brown thinks he can avoid a similar fate. However, when you're facing life in prison, it never hurts to have a little professional help.



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