I was sitting at court last week when I overhead a non-lawyer assistant at a district attorney’s office giving someone charged in a criminal case (a case that would be very hard to prove) advice about their case. Apparently, the person had somehow “waived” their right to an attorney and wanted to speak with the prosecutor’s office. She was getting advice on how long she would sit in jail when she “booked in and booked out” on her charges, which prompted me to ask why she didn’t have a lawyer. Texas law now requires courts to inquire as to waivers of attorneys and the court should ensure that the waiver is voluntarily, and the prosecutor’s office is not to encourage people to waive counsel. However, these new rules don’t mean much when citizens accused are afraid to ask for a lawyer to talk about their case.
If you are facing actual jail time, the Constitution GUARANTEES you the right to an attorney to not only talk to you about your case, but to defend your rights and to competently represent you at trial if you so choose. While some people might not take this right very seriously, if you are facing jail time, and YES, probation on a jail time case means jail time if you violate probation, YOU NEED A LAWYER. A court appointed lawyer has much more legal training and ability than a non-lawyer. Most courts seek to have competent counsel on their appointment lists because they do not want to have to re-try a case if a lawyer is found to have committed malpractice.
Thus, it is YOUR RIGHT and you should say NO to waiving your right to counsel. I have talked to many bailiffs who agree that they would not be found NEAR a courtroom without a lawyer. If you cannot afford a lawyer, the court must appoint one FREE OF CHARGE. Also, most attorneys give FREE initial consultations for criminal clients, so why not talk to one about what possible defenses you might have to a case? Pleading guilty is usually permanent, so why go in blind when our government guarantees you a right to counsel? Either hire one or see if you qualify for an appointed lawyer!