Pro se legal representation in the United States/temp

Pro se legal representation in the United States/temp

"Pro se" legal representation refers to the instance of a person representing himself or herself without a lawyer in a court proceeding, whether as a defendant or a plaintiff and whether the matter is civil or criminal. In the United States, such self-representation is permitted in most instances. "Pro se" is a Latin phrase meaning "for himself". This status is sometimes known as "propria persona" or "pro per". In England and Wales the comparable status is "Litigant in Person". "In pro per" is short for "in propria persona", Latin for "in his own person." California, among other states, uses "Pro Per" instead of "pro se".

In the United States

Criminal law

In "Adams v. United States ex rel. McCann" (317 US 269) the United States Supreme Court upheld the individual's right to represent him or herself without being admitted to a bar (pro se).cite web
title=Adams v. United States
date=21 December 1942|accessdate=March 07|accessyear=2008
publisher=United States Supreme Court
] Subsequent cases confirmed that in the United States, in any criminal prosecution by a State or the Federal Government the Sixth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution guarantee the right of the accused to refuse the aid of an attorney, though even in those circumstances the court may require that an attorney be present as an advisor should the accused desire help. ["See Faretta v. California", 422 U.S. 806 (1975).] Once a person elects to be tried pro se, however, he or she has effectively waived the right to counsel for the remainder of the trial Fact|date=August 2007.

Civil law

In civil lawsuits, there is no right to appointed counsel, nor a fundamental right to proceed without counsel. Most courts allow people to appear in court and submit legal documents "pro se", but some prohibit legal "persons" such as corporations from appearing without representation.

On the other hand, small claims courts in many jurisdictions do not allow lawyers to represent clients in front of the judge absent special circumstances. Even in states like Texas where lawyers are permitted to litigate in small claims court, the court proceedings are typically less technical and much more conducive to pro se litigants.

Why people proceed "Pro Se"

Some individuals choose to act "pro se" because they themselves are lawyers or have other legal experience, or simply because they are confident in their ability to convey their claim or defense without professional aid. Some "pro ses" may simply not want to pay the attorney's fees and expenses associated with hiring counsel. Others may want a lawyer, but find themselves unintentionally unrepresented due to their inability to find or afford a lawyer willing to take their case. In civil court matters, this might occur where the outcome would be uncertain, such as in cases of alleged defamation where the plaintiff may be burdened by costly SLAPP litigation. Such people will often continue the case "pro se" rather than give up their quest for damages.

In most serious criminal prosecutions in the United States, an indigent defendant has a right to a lawyer appointed by the court, so the decision to proceed "pro se" is rarely based on financial considerations. However, even indigent criminal defendants in jurisdictions that guarantee legal representation may still have to represent themselves in the later stages of the case, as free representation is often only provided by the state during the initial trial and the direct appeal. This is especially true in collateral proceedings such as habeas corpus or postconviction petitions that fall outside the normal appeals process.

Resources for the "Pro Se"

For those individuals who do elect to proceed on their own, there are many resources both in print and other formats, and many on the Internet, that offer ideas, definitions, instructions, legal topic overviews and do it yourself legal forms for many matters. Cases, decisions, and statutes can be found in law libraries. Legal document assistants, and in certain states where permitted by law, Paralegals, may also assist with brief preparation, for a fee. "Pro se" litigants, in some courts, can obtain filing assistance from a pro se clerk at the courthouse, or in very limited circumstances, the judge, underway in the case, may give advice from the bench on how to navigate the law. [cite web | last = Goldschmidt | first = Jona | authorlink = | coauthors = | title = Cases and Materials on Pro Se Litigation and Related Issues | work = The Pro Se Law Center: A Resource Center on the Pro Se Concept for Legal Service Providers
publisher = Maryland Legal Assistance Network/MLSC | year = 1997 | url =
format = html | doi = | accessdate = 2008-03-26
] Their fees are negotiable, but if on an hourly rate, expect to pay average lawyer fees in the U.S. of around $200-300 per hour. [cite web
title = The Laffey Matrix | work = | publisher = U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia | year = 2007
url = | format = html | doi = | accessdate = 2008-03-26

Notable "Pro Se" Litigants

Thomas Van Orden, a lawyer with a suspended license to practice law who was living homelessly in Austin, Texas, managed to challenge a religious display on the state capitol grounds, and successfully navigated his case all the way to the Supreme Court. While he was ultimately unsuccessful at getting the display removed, he was extremely successful at litigating the case. See "Van Orden v. Perry." [" [ Supreme Court on a Shoestring] ", The Washington Post, February 21, 2005] [" [ From the streets to the Supreme Court] ", The Houston Chronicle Oct. 17, 2004 (article mirrored at] [ [ U.S. Supreme Court docket for 03-1500 "Van Orden v. Perry"] ]

Edward C. Lawson is an African American civil rights activist, who was the pro se defendant in the case of Kolender v. Lawson (461 U.S. 352, 1983) in which the United States Supreme Court ruled that a police officer could not arrest a citizen merely for refusing to present identification. [ [ Edward C. Lawson -- official website] ] [ [ "Kolender v. Lawson," 461 U.S. 352 (1983)] ] [ [ 1921 Tulsa Race Riot -- CNN] ] [ [ 1921 Tulsa Race Riot -- OSU Library] ]

Jim Traficant, a former Congressman from Ohio, represented himself in a RICO case in 1983, and was acquitted of all charges, becoming the only person to ever win a RICO case while representing himself. Traficant would represent himself again in 2002, this time unsuccessfully, and was sentenced to prison for 8 years for taking bribes, filing false tax returns, and racketeering. [ [ - Traficant guilty of bribery, racketeering - April 12, 2002 ] ] [] [ [ The Smoking Gun: Archive ] ]

Barbara Schwarz, of Salt Lake City, Utah, has filed a large number of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. When the responses failed to verify her claims, she responded with litigation, which she has done "pro se". According to the "Salt Lake Tribune", "at least one of Schwarz's lawsuits has been considered by a U.S. District or U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals somewhere in the nation every year since 1993." [ Smith, Christopher. [ S.L. Woman's Quest Strains Public Records System] , "The Salt Lake Tribune", May 11, 2003.]


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