Socrates, Joan of Arc, Ted Bundy, Bobby Seale, Long Island Rail Road murderer Colin Ferguson and, briefly, Zacarias Moussaoui, all defended themselves in court, says the Baltimore Sun. It’s a right that – with certain constitutional safeguards – is guaranteed in this country. Now John Allen Muhammad, the Washington, D.C.-area sniper on death row in Virginia, is defending himself in another murder trial under way in Maryland.
Erica Hashimoto, a professor at the University of Georgia School of Law, set out to determine whether empirical data supported the assumption of most lawyers that pro se defendants, as they are called, are “either mentally ill or stupid.” In the study, to be published in the North Carolina Law Review, Hashimoto found that pro se felony defendants in state courts were as likely as defendants with counsel to win complete acquittal. In addition, they were more likely to be convicted of lesser offenses – misdemeanors rather than felonies, showed a sample from the National Archive of Criminal Justice Data that covers the country’s 75 largest counties in the even years between 1990 and 1998. “My conclusion is that the right to self-represent is a good thing,” Hashimoto said.