Q: I’m being charged with Battery Domestic Violence in Las Vegas. The public defender wants me to just plead guilty. I don’t think I can afford a private attorney, so can I just represent myself?
A: The short answer is yes. You can successfully represent yourself in a domestic violence misdemeanor case. If you request to represent yourself, the Judge will canvass you to make sure you understand what you are taking on. You will need to understand the rules of court, the rules of evidence, and the rules of service. Specifically, you need to understand what a “Hill” motion is and why it is relevant.
If the Judge allows you to go forward, the District Attorney has wide latitude to ask for enhanced sentencing, or use the threat of enhanced sentencing to bully you into taking a plea bargain. You can certainly get the same result an attorney would, if you know what you’re doing. This is true in any situation where an attorney represents you. However, there are some dangerous misconceptions about domestic violence out there. Most people think it is as simple as having their spouse show up and say they don’t want to press charges. That is not the case. Many people think their victim can just not show up and the case will be dismissed. That is not the case.
There is a good reason why I spent years under another attorney learning domestic violence law. There are several “phases” of defense in a DV case that you need to understand, and you need to understand how the District Attorney (or City Attorney depending on jurisdiction) views Domestic Violence. Domestic Violence is also very different depending on the jurisdiction. The most aggressive litigation plan in Las Vegas Municipal Court would not be the best course of action in Henderson, or Las Vegas Justice Court. The key is to know the Judges and prosecutors and how they operate.
Finally, the act of putting on a criminal trial while defending yourself is, in and of itself, awkward. Imagine trying to cross examine a victim-witness and having to ask questions like “at what point do you claim that I put my hands on you?”, or “isn’t it true that I was just trying to defend myself after you attacked me?”. You can see how trying to phrase questions that will lead to witnesses giving exonerating evidence would be difficult in that situation. I have represented hundreds of defendants accused of committing domestic violence, and I would still hire an attorney to represent me if I were charged with domestic violence.
I encourage you to speak to a criminal defense attorney even if you don’t think you can afford one. You might be surprised at how affordable our flat rate fees are, and we can work with you on payment plans.