Do I need a lawyer for a pretrial hearing on a domestic violence matter?
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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021
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You should definitely consider hiring an attorney. You are dealing with a very serious matter and should be well armed. If funds are tight, ask your local bar association or legal aid about a pro-bono program. If you own a home, borrow against its equity.
You should definitely have an attorney for pretrial hearing on a domestic violence matter. Indeed, if you are accused of domestic violence (or even suspect you will be accused), retain an attorney right away. You don’t want to face this without expert help at your side.
It is true that you do not legally need an attorney. You are allowed to represent yourself as your own attorney or “pro se.” You could potentially start out representing yourself and then get an attorney later, in a bid to save money by reducing the amount of attorney time for which you are paying.
But why this is a bad idea can be succinctly summarized by two old sayings: “Someone who acts as his own attorney has a fool for a client,” and “Penny wise, pound foolish.”
Domestic violence is a serious charge. That’s because violence is violence. Committing violence against your significant other is legally the same as assaulting a stranger, and you can face just as much jail time as if you attacked some random passer-by on the street. Focus on the “violence” part, not the “domestic” part. Domestic violence is a crime of violence, with (depending on the exact facts) up to years in prison as a possibility. It also has consequences for divorce (if you are married), child custody (if you have children), and can result in being sued for the victim’s injuries. Do not underestimate the potential consequences.
Maybe you’re very smart. Perhaps you’ve seen every episode of Law & Order there is. That still doesn’t make you an attorney. Lawyers go to school for years before they are allowed to practice. They have education, training, and experience you simply can’t match as a non-lawyer. They also have the advantage of having a perspective on the matter which you lack, since it was not their relationship or their future on the line. A lawyer can approach this matter far more objectively and dispassionately than you. Quite simply, the lawyer will do a better job than you.
Things you say or do at the outset of a case can affect the outcome. Saying the wrong thing early on–such as at a pretrial hearing–can amount to a confession. For example;
1) A lawyer can advise you as to what to say and (perhaps more importantly) not say.
2) Maybe there’s a flaw in how the prosecution obtained evidence that might result in critical evidence being thrown out. But unless you know how to determine if they did something wrong– and if they did, how to challenge the evidence– it will stay in and be used against you. (Whereas if it is excluded early on, that will change the entire complexion of the case.)
A lawyer can also more effectively make sure that you receive bail which you can afford, so you don’t spend your time in jail even before the case is heard. That’s why someone acting as their own attorney in a case like this has a fool for client–to act as your own attorney is to increase your odds of spending time in prison or suffering other serious consequences, and only a fool would do that.
And that’s also why to try to save money by hiring the lawyer later is being penny wise, but pound foolish. You are saving a relative small amount of money (pennies) at the cost of damaging your case and suffering worse consequences (pounds).
Whenever you are faced with jail time and other serious consequences, including for domestic violence, the best thing you can for yourself is to get a lawyer right away, so you can start helping yourself from the very beginning of the case.