How to Defend Yourself in Court Without a Lawyer

By Yvonne Van Damme

If you have been arrested or just have to face a judge in traffic court, you usually have the option to represent yourself. The term for defending yourself in court without an attorney is "pro se." It's easiest to defend yourself in small claims court or in a civil trial versus a criminal trial. Defending yourself in a criminal trial is not recommended as the laws are complex, and, ultimately, the stakes are higher.

Go to the courthouse and pick up the necessary paperwork, including the pre-printed documents for answering the complaint and filing your defense. Most court clerks will provide the pre-printed forms for you to fill out. You may also be able to download the forms from the court's website.

Fill out your response to the charges. Depending on the case, you may have additional paperwork to fill out. Make copies of all of the documents that will go into your case file.

File the documents with the court clerk. Each court has different filing procedures and fees. Make sure that the court clerk stamps the documents with the official date and court stamp. Once you have filed the paperwork, the clerk will create your case file. It will take up to a week or two for the file to be created and available for viewing.

Obtain copies of the evidence that will be used against you from the prosecution. The process of gathering that evidence is called discovery. You are entitled to have a copy of this since you are working as your own attorney.

Prepare for trial, depending on the type of court case. Read over the evidence and prepare your defense to the charges. Bring copies and any evidence that you have. In addition, prepare an opening and closing statement for the judge and/or jury.

About the Author

Yvonne Van Damme is a freelance writer based in Seattle. She has been writing for several years with a focus on criminal justice and legal topics. In addition to various websites, she has been published in several academic journals. Van Damme holds a Bachelor of Arts in law, society and justice and sociology from the University of Washington.

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