For obvious reasons, it is preferable to have a competent attorney represent you in court. But some persons reach the point that they cannot afford an attorney, so they represent themselves in court on a “pro se” basis. “Pro se” means “on behalf of yourself.”
These are the actions you need to take:
Learn How the System Works:
- Understand the difference between civil and criminal law. Most restraining orders are issued in civil court, so the due process protections found under criminal law do not apply.
- Pay a visit to the judge’s courtroom and observe how cases similar to yours are handled. Listen carefully to the statements of the plaintiff and defense attorneys.
- Study the wording of the laws that are referred to in the restraining order.
- Get a copy of the judge’s Benchbook, which summarizes the pertinent law and procedure.
- Learn the “culture” of the courtroom – how persons are expected to dress and speak to each other.
Prepare Yourself for the Hearing:
- If you can afford it, find an attorney who can give you advice about legal strategy and procedures, even though the attorney does not come to court with you.
- Organize, organize, organize!
- Request pertinent documents from your accuser’s attorney (called “discovery”)
- Read everything carefully, including the petition, police reports, and all other documents in the file. Make notes.
- Make an outline of the allegations. Pinpoint all errors, omissions of fact, and false statements.
- Do not allow law enforcement personnel into your home unless they have a search warrant.
Represent Yourself in the Courtroom:
- Hire a court reporter if the proceedings are not recorded by the court.
- Bring witnesses with you, even if they are only observers, to give you feedback afterwards.
- Don’t be forced to admit to an action. You have the right to remain silent.
- Learn motion objections. Make an objection if the judge does not follow proper procedures, e.g., allows hearsay evidence.
- Make sure the judge makes the justification for the findings explicit, both orally and in writing.
- Realize the basis of an appeal is if the judge has not followed correct procedures, not that you don’t agree with the judge’s finding.
For some persons, a pro se defense is their only viable course of action. Even if you decide to defend yourself, you can later find an attorney to represent you if necessary.
Maury D. Beaulier. Fighting false allegations of domestic violence. February 19, 2009.
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