Pro Se Litigation - Representing Yourself
If you are appearing in Court without the aid of an Attorney, you are what the Court refers to as a pro se (pro say) litigant – that is you are "appearing for yourself". You may be a little apprehensive due to your lack of familiarity with Courtroom procedure and formalities. This information sheet is designed to give you some basic information about the procedures that will be followed in the Courtroom. The information provided here is very general and may not apply the same in each individual case.
Criminal / Traffic Cases
Criminal and traffic cases are called "prosecutions". The parties involved are always a City Prosecutor and yourself. Due process in a criminal or traffic case offers you certain protections:
- you have a right to be represented by an attorney, including an appointed attorney if you are indigent and are being tried for a crime for which you could be jailed;
- you have the right to a Trial to a Judge or to a Jury if the offense that you are charged with involves the possibility of a jail sentence;
- you have the right to require the Prosecutor to prove your guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt" – you do not have to prove your innocence;
- you have the right to be present during the Trial and Cross-Examine or question, the witnesses called against you;
- you have the right to subpoena your own witnesses into Court; and
- you enjoy a privilege against self incrimination; no one can make you testify, but if you choose to do so you will be treated as any other witness.
In most cases a Pretrial meeting will be held prior to any potential Trial. This would be on a date and time scheduled, for which you will receive written notice. At that time you will be present, as well as your attorney, and the appropriate Prosecutor. Sometimes alleged victims or witnesses may also be requested to attend the Pretrial.
The purpose of a Pretrial is to see whether or not a case can be resolved without the necessity of a Trial. Typically, there is discussion between the parties of the City’s version of the offense and the Defendant’s version; any necessary discovery, or exchange of information, prior to a potential Trial; and the identities of any witnesses who may testify at Trial. Many times an agreement is reached, which is known as a "Plea Agreement", "Plea Bargain" or by other names, but essentially it is an Agreement between the Prosecutor and the Defendant to resolve a case in some way that eliminates the necessity of a Trial. There are a wide variety of arrangements which can be made, but it must be done by agreement of both parties. If there is a Pretrial resolution, then you will appear before the Judge, who will complete the Plea Agreement, explain you your rights, and where appropriate pronounce sentence for offenses for which you may be convicted.
In some cases there may be more than one Pretrial. If the case is not resolved in the Pretrial process, it then would proceed to a Trial. The Trial is automatically before the Judge; however, if the offense for which you are charged has the possibility of a jail sentence, you have the right to have a case tried by a Jury of eight people. In order to do so you must file a written request for a Jury within certain time frames. If that request is timely filed, then a Jury of eight people will hear the case instead of the Judge. If you are found Not Guilty of the jailable offenses, you bear no additional expense; however, if you are found Guilty of a jailable offense by the Jury you are also responsible for the cost of the Jury, which is $225.00 per day.
Generally speaking, the Trial is divided into five stages.
- Opening Statements
- Prosecutor's Case-in-Chief
- Your Case-in-Chief
- Prosecutor's Rebuttal Case
- Closing Arguments
Opening statements are not evidence, and are simply statements given by the opposing sides to give the Court a roadmap of the evidence that the parties anticipate will be presented at Trial. They are optional, and may be waived.
The Prosecutor's case-in-chief begins the presentation of the evidence in a case. The Prosecutor calls witnesses one at a time. The witnesses are sworn, and give "testimony" in response to questions from the Prosecutor. The Prosecutor may also introduce "exhibits" through the witnesses. This initial questioning of the witnesses is called "direct examination". Following direct examination of the witness, you have the opportunity to "cross examine" the witness. Cross-examination is a time for you to ask questions of the witness, not a time to make statements or argue with the witness. You may introduce exhibits through cross-examination of the Prosecutor's witness if you wish. When you are finished with cross-examination, the Prosecutor has the opportunity to conduct "redirect examination" of the witness-this is to ask follow-up questions to your cross-examination of the witness. After any redirect examination, you have an additional opportunity to ask questions of re-cross examination, but those questions are limited to matters addressed by the witness on redirect examination. This process repeats itself for each witness until the Prosecutor is finished presenting his/her case. When that happens, the Prosecutor "rests", or ends his/her case.
You have a decision to make after the Prosecutor rests. You have no obligation to testify or present a case. If you choose, however, to present a case, you would present your case-in-chief in the same manner as the Prosecutor. That is, you would call witnesses, examine them, have them subjected to cross-examination, and then you may conduct re-direct examination, followed by re-cross testimony. You would introduce exhibits, if any, through your witnesses. If you choose to testify, you lose your privilege against self-incrimination, and will be subject to cross-examination as any other witness. This process would continue, one witness at a time, until you are finished presenting your case. Then, would you "rest" your case.
The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides that you are not required to testify, and that if you chose not to testify, no negative comment can be made regarding your decision not to testify. However, should you choose to testify, you will be sworn in and will take the witness stand. Typically, you will then give your direct testimony in a narrative fashion-that is, telling the facts of your version of the incident regarding the crime or crimes for which you are charged. When you let the Judge know that you are finished with your narrative direct testimony, the Prosecutor may then ask questions of cross-examination. After any cross-examination, you would have the right to present re-direct testimony, again in a narrative fashion, to supplement that which may have been raised in cross-examination. When complete with any re-direct examination, the Prosecutor would have a right for additional re-cross examination, based on anything that may have been presented during the re-direct testimony.
Prosecutor's Rebuttal Case
Following your case-in-chief, the Prosecutor has the opportunity to present a "rebuttal case". That is, to call previous witnesses or possible new witnesses to rebut anything you may have raised in your case-in-chief. The process works the same as the Prosecutor's case-in-chief. The prosecutor gets the opportunity to present a rebuttal case because the Prosecutor bears the burden of proof and must actually prove your guilt, whereas you need not prove anything.
At the conclusion of the Prosecutor's rebuttal case, both parties are given the opportunity to present "closing arguments". Closing arguments are not evidence. They are simply arguments designed to help the Court make a decision. In closing argument, you would argue the facts and law as to why you should be found Not Guilty. The Prosecutor argues first, then you argue, then the Prosecutor has the opportunity to make a final rebuttal argument. The case is then submitted to the Court for a decision.