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The trouble with self-representation to criminal charges in Chicago

Pro se representation, or self-representation, in Illinois is fraught with risks for someone who is facing a criminal charge.

The U.S. Courts note that the majority of defendants opt for an attorney, though there is a small number of people who choose to go it alone. It can be tempting for someone to defend himself or herself when facing criminal charges in Illinois. However, appearing pro se - Latin for "on behalf of themselves" - has some serious drawbacks. Anyone considering this option should be aware of the risks involved.

Legal inexperience

Perhaps the most notable disadvantage to appearing alone in court is that many people do not have a comprehensive understanding of the law. Court employees are not permitted by law to give legal advice to any defendant. While friends and family may have good intentions, they may not have the legal training necessary to build a solid defense.

Criminal cases can be especially difficult because there are several different elements that must be proven in order to preserve a defendant's rights and freedom. For example, in Illinois, breaking into someone's home is not automatically considered burglary. However, the prosecution may try to prove that there was an intent to commit a crime, which would elevate a seemingly simple charge into a felony. The defendant may have to prove that he or she had no criminal intent to prevent a conviction of a very serious crime.

The power of persuasion

Having legal knowledge is essential, but so is the ability to formulate an argument and persuade a jury or judge. This requires excellent communication skills that many people may not have. Along those same lines, it should be noted that language can be a barrier for some people who choose pro se representation.

Serious implications

Finally, the benefits of self-representation rarely outweigh the risks. Any criminal conviction can carry with it serious penalties that can last a lifetime. In addition to time in jail and fines, a defendant could face the following:

  • Loss of employment
  • Loss of the right to own a firearm
  • Restrictions on living environment

A conviction will be a part of someone's permanent record. As the Illinois State Bar Association points out, the Job Opportunities for Qualified Applicants Act, which went into effect at the start of 2015, prohibits an employer from considering or asking about someone's criminal history during the application phase. However, that information is accessible further into the hiring process, and a conviction can be a deterrent for many employers.

Experts across the board tend to agree that hiring an attorney gives a defendant the best chance to secure a favorable outcome in a case. Anyone who has questions about this issue should consult with an attorney.