In Iowa, Representing Yourself in a Criminal Case Can Be Unwise

If people are arrested and charged with a crime in Iowa, they can face life-changing consequences. That's why it's important to have a well-planned strategy to fight the charges as aggressively as they can. That means retaining an attorney who understands the law and legal strategy, and has experience.

People may think they are innocent of the charges, or that they were justified in doing the act they are accused of. People may believe sincerely that their cause is just, that no reasonable judge or jury could disagree and that they know enough about the criminal justice system to represent themselves in court.

People can sometimes get away with representing themselves in a minor civil matter, like a case in small claims court, where the consequences of losing are not as severe. That's not true in a criminal case. Lose, and people can go to prison. People can also have a criminal record that will make it much harder to get a job or even rent an apartment following the case.

An experienced criminal defense lawyer can mean the difference between freedom and prison. At the arraignment, a lawyer can argue for bail to be set low enough that people can remain out of jail while awaiting trial. Before trial, an experienced lawyer can be invaluable in the plea bargaining process. The lawyer will know what charges are negotiable and what kind of deal the prosecutor handling a person's case is likely to accept.

At trial, self-representation puts people at a serious disadvantage. Even if people don't have a lawyer, they will still be expected to know the law, the rules of court and the rules of evidence. The judge and the prosecutor are not there to help people and they will not give legal advice.

If people can't afford an attorney, they have the right to be represented by a court-appointed lawyer at no charge. If people don't qualify for a public defender, they can often find an attorney who is willing to work with them in setting a fee they can afford.

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