Criminal Procedures

The Criminal Process

Can a person choose to waive or decline counsel and represent himself or herself?

Yes, a criminal defendant can decide to waive or decline counsel and represent himself in a criminal case. Federal law has provided for the right of self-representation since the Judiciary Act of 1789. The right of self-representation also applies to state court defendants. Most state constitutions explicitly provide for this right of self-representation. Even in those states that do not provide so in the state constitution, it is a right recognized either by a statute or in the common law (case law).

The U.S. Supreme Court recognized this right for a state-court defendant charged with grand auto theft in Farretta v. California (1975). The Court reasoned that historically the colonies had protected the right of self-representation and the Court reasoned that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel should be interpreted to have the right not to have unwanted counsel foisted upon a defendant.


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