An old adage says that “a man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.” The adage, of course, means that it is generally never a good idea to proceed without skilled legal representation in any legal action. The need for effective counsel is never greater than in a criminal case, which is why your defense needs to include a knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense attorney working for you.
G.S. was someone who tried to defend himself, and the result of his trial was not a favorable one for him. He was on trial for a very serious matter. Allegedly, he stabbed another man with a machete during a May 2016 altercation. The state charged G.S. with attempted first-degree murder, attempted second-degree murder, first-degree assault and second-degree assault. The defendant did not hire his own attorney and was appointed a public defender. In fact, he was appointed two different public defenders at two different points. G.S., however, decided that he could do a better job than these lawyers, and asked to proceed without counsel. The judge concluded that the defendant hadn’t provided a good reason for dismissing the public defenders but let him do it anyway.
Unsurprisingly, the trial was not a success for the accused. The jury found him guilty on all counts and he was sentenced to life in prison for the attempted first-degree murder count. In other words, the result of G.S.’s trial was the least favorable one possible for him. The lawyers he fired literally could not have done worse in terms of outcomes no matter how well or poorly they performed.
Fortunately, even after one has suffered these kinds of setbacks, a criminal defendant still has options. Generally, the best way to utilize those options is to start by hiring an experienced attorney.
The accused didn’t receive accurate notice of the possible penalties he faced
The reason someone in a position like G.S. still has options is because the law says that there are certain specific processes that must be completed once a criminal defendant has asked to waive having legal representation. The trial court has to make “certain that the defendant has received a copy of the charging document containing notice as to the right to counsel,” and must also advise “the defendant of the nature of the charges in the charging document, and the allowable penalties, including mandatory penalties, if any.”
In other words, the procedural rules require the court to tell the accused what criminal charges he is facing and what the maximum penalties are for those crimes. In G.S.’s case, the judge had the prosecutor do this, which is not allowed. The court must handle that task directly, and not delegate it. Even if the prosecutor had gotten all the maximum potential penalties right, the delegation of advising the defendant (by the judge to another) still would have been a procedural error, and one that would have entitled the accused to a new trial.
In G.S.’s case, however, the prosecutor didn’t get all the penalties right. The prosecutor was not completely sure of the allowable penalties for one crime, and incorrectly stated the maximum penalty for the top count, attempted first-degree murder. (The attorney said the maximum was 60 years, when it was really a life sentence.)
So, that meant that the defendant decided to defend himself, thinking that the greatest penalty he possibly could receive for the top count was 60 years. In actuality, he was facing the possibility of life imprisonment, which was the sentence he eventually received.
Both of those flaws were what the law calls “harmful” errors and entitled G.S. to a new trial.
G.S. was fortunate that he was able to appeal and had valid grounds for a new trial. Had he not tried his case himself, some of the complications and setbacks he endured perhaps could have been avoided. The best way to ensure that your rights are protected, from pre-trial to the trial itself to post-trial steps, is to have a skillful attorney on your side. Experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney Anthony A. Fatemi has been diligently and effectively representing the accused in Maryland for many years and is ready to talk to you about your case. To learn more, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.