I’ve been charged with a crime and I am thinking about taking a plea. Do I still need an attorney?

            Everyone has the option of representing themselves in a criminal proceeding.  It is known as appearing “pro se”.  If you are “pro se”, you are acting as your own lawyer.  You are expected to conference your case with the ADA, make legal decisions affecting your case, and, ultimately, decide whether to plea or take the case to trial.  If you intend to take a plea, either immediately at your first court appearance or during the course of the criminal proceedings, you would negotiate the disposition with the ADA.  The important question that arises from such a situation is whether you should still speak to an attorney about representation if you wish to take a plea and not proceed to trial. 

            The most common charges where someone might want to immediately resolve a case are license/motor vehicle related charges and for an OUI/DUI where the facts are particularly tough to overcome or where you need to get a hardship license as soon as possible.  For license/motor vehicle related charges, it is often worthwhile resolving the case on your own if you have a limited history of related charges.  Most likely, the ADA will dismiss the matter on your first appearance as long as you pay some court costs.  Otherwise, it is almost always to your benefit to speak to an attorney before considering a plea.  Keep in mind, the ADA cannot give you legal advice, cannot advise you of any defenses or motions you might have, and cannot assist you in plea negotiations.  For a plea, both sides fill out their portion of the “green sheet”, or plea sheet.  Some ADA’s will offer you the same plea regardless of whether you are represented by a lawyer, but some will not. 

            It is your life, so you have to make the best decision for yourself, but it is almost always in your interest to have representation.  A lawyer will be familiar with the law and will be able to advise you of any defenses or motions that might make postponing a plea in your best interest.  Further, the lawyer will be familiar with the relevant parties in the court (ADA, judge, clerk, probation officer, etc.) as well as in a better position to seek charge concessions, a better offer from the ADA, and to argue to the judge in your favor if you have a disparate recommendation than the ADA.  Hiring a lawyer even if you intend to plea is a monetary commitment, and in most cases, it is a worthy investment. 

Michael Thaler, Esq.

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