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Read This Before Trying to Represent Yourself Pro Se in New Jersey Criminal Court

July 30, 2021 | Posted In Criminal Law |

Hiring a New Jersey criminal lawyer costs money, and even hiring a public defender is not free. As a result, if you are like many criminal defendants, you might be thinking about trying to handle your case on your own (also referred to as pro se). But, while handling your case on your own might seem like a good idea, there are many reasons not to represent yourself pro se.

Whether you have been charged with a petty disorderly persons offense or you are facing years (or decades) behind bars for an indictable crime, it is strongly in your best interests to hire a New Jersey criminal lawyer to represent you. Below are some important pieces of information to consider before trying to represent yourself pro se in a New Jersey criminal court:

This Is Your Chance to Avoid a Conviction

If you are facing criminal charges in New Jersey, your trial is your chance to avoid a conviction. That said, you want to make that chance count and a skilled attorney can help in that effort. However, if you do choose to go it alone, keep in mind that, while there are limited grounds for filing an appeal or seeking post-conviction relief, (i) these options won’t necessarily be available to you, and (ii) even if they are, there is no guarantee that an attorney who steps in later will be able to file a successful appeal or post-conviction petition on your behalf.

What about expungement? Eventually, your conviction might become eligible for expungement. However, this likely won’t happen any time soon (if at all) as many crimes do not qualify for expungement in New Jersey, and you will still be forced to live with the consequences of your conviction in the years to come.

If You Get Convicted, Your Ability to File an Appeal is Not “Automatic”

Many people assume that they are automatically able to file an appeal if they get convicted in New Jersey criminal court. This is not the case. In order to file an appeal, you must have grounds to do so—and you must take the necessary steps to preserve these grounds during your trial.

Knowing how and when to preserve arguments for appeal is a critical trial skill, and it is one that it takes many New Jersey criminal lawyers years to develop. Without a background in New Jersey criminal law and trial procedure, you are extremely unlikely to have the knowledge you need to preserve your appellate rights.

Many Prosecutors Are Very Good at What They Do

Prosecutors get paid to put people behind bars. Many of New Jersey’s prosecutors are very good at what they do—and they have the conviction records to prove it. If you try to handle your case pro se, experience will not be on your side, which means that you will be at a severe disadvantage.

While prosecutors have ethical obligations, these obligations do not extend to helping defendants with their cases. If prosecutors can take advantage of the fact that you are unrepresented within the confines of their professional responsibility, they will. They will not go easy on you because you don’t have a defense lawyer—and you cannot expect the judge to go easy on you either.

There Are Many Steps Involved In Trying a Criminal Case

Trying a criminal case is not a simple matter of showing up in court and explaining why you don’t think you are guilty. There are many steps involved in the process, all of which require in-depth knowledge of the law and the court rules in the relevant jurisdiction. For example, if you try to handle your criminal case pro se, you will need to be prepared to handle matters such as:

  • Attending your arraignment and other pretrial hearings
  • Voir dire (jury selection)
  • Filing motions to suppress evidence
  • Filing motions to obtain evidence
  • Filing motions to dismiss and for other forms of relief
  • Making sure your evidence is admissible in court
  • Deciding whether to testify in your defense
  • Making objections during the prosecution’s case in chief
  • Presenting your case in chief
  • Preserving grounds for appeal
  • Presenting arguments at sentencing

These are just some of the most notable examples. Each of these involves several steps on its own, and doing everything necessary to represent yourself effectively would take the majority of your time, even if you knew what you needed to be doing. Lawyers spend years studying and practicing under the supervision of more senior attorneys to develop the knowledge and skills they need to try cases in criminal court.

All Crimes Carry Fines and Jail (or Prison) Time in New Jersey

Even if you have been charged with a petty disorderly persons offense such as disorderly conduct or harassment, you are still facing a $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail (not to mention the other consequences of having a criminal record). If you have been charged with a more serious crime, you could be facing thousands of dollars in fines, years or decades behind bars, and other penalties. With all that you have at stake, you truly cannot afford to take the risk of trying to handle your case pro se.

It Can Be Much More Cost-Effective to Hire a New Jersey Criminal Lawyer

Finally, while many people assume that New Jersey criminal lawyers are expensive, the reality is that it can be much more cost-effective to have an experienced attorney by your side. Depending on the circumstances of your case, a lawyer may be able to help you avoid a conviction entirely. If this is not feasible, your lawyer will focus on minimizing your sentence, and the costs you save as a result could far exceed the cost of your legal representation.

Schedule a Confidential Consultation with a New Jersey Criminal Lawyer

If you are facing charges in New Jersey, we strongly recommend that you speak with a lawyer about your case. At Helmer, Conley & Kasselman, P.A., our New Jersey criminal lawyers have centuries of combined experience helping defendants avoid convictions and harsh sentences. To schedule a time to speak with one of our lawyers in confidence, give us a call at 877-435-6371 or request an appointment online today.


Over 20 attorneys at HCK have extensive experience in defending criminal cases as they were former assistant prosecutors and/or police officers for a combined total of over 600 years of law enforcement experience. You can find out more about them on our site, and you can call Managing Partner Ron Helmer on his cell phone at 609 685-0665.

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