Can Someone Who Represents Himself Defend Co-Defendents?

Can someone who is on trial with others and decides to defend himself also be able to defend others with him-suppose for example of the accused is a lawyer and thus decides to defend everybody?

A non-lawyer may not represent anyone other than himself in most court proceedings. A lawyer who also happens to be a defendant is likely to have conflicts of interest that would prevent him from representing co-defendants in the same trial. For that matter, he’s probably not going to represent himself, either. There’s an old saying that a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.

Don’t many lawyers, perhaps the vast majority have fools for clients. Except for the occasional plaintiff is some civil cases and an occasional falsely accused criminal defendant aren’t many of them fools.

[When I needed a lawyer I foolishly volunteered that I was a witness to an incident.]

Many, perhaps, but certainly not a majority. The vast majority of lawyers work on civil cases or transactional matters. Even in criminal cases, half the lawyers are representing the state.

Except in the very case we’re discussing here – multiple defendants may each have a lawyer, but the state is still represented by one lawyer.

I suppose – and I cannot begin to explain what an unwise idea this is – a set of co-defendants who all wished to have one of their number represent them all could each decide to go pro se. That is, each would represent himself, as they each have an absolute right to do, and all would rely on one of their number to be the “lead” counsel, acting technically for himself but in circumstances where none of their interests are adverse. That is, if he impeaches the prosecution’s witnesses, that inures to the benefit of each co-defendant.

Oddly enough, a non-lawyer may not even represent a corporation, even if it’s a corporation that’s essentially Defendant’s Name, Inc.

When multiple defendants ar tried together it’s not unusual for them to have separate lawyers -especially if the case could degenerate to A blames B, B blames A. (A common Law and Order tactic, IIRC) Even if they don’t take the stand, the direction of questioning of other witnesses, and closing statements, may put them in a conflict.

I’m guessing in a case like that, the judge would prohibit any such action from the beginning - since the last ting the system wants is an appeal and retrial based on a claim that the legal defence was inadequate.

The judge can’t.

A defendant has an absolute right to represent himself. (Unless he is not competent).

True, but it’s not as though the state attorney is the only one working on the case.

It’s entirely possible. Different prosecutors’ offices handle things differently, but for other than major felony cases – yeah, one attorney for the state at trial.

Fair enough. The point remains that the number of lawyers representing criminal defendants and stupid civil plaintiffs is vastly outweighed by the number of lawyers who aren’t.

You, as a nonlawyer, may represent yourself in any case of any kind, all the way up to and including before the U.S. Supreme Court. You’d be foolish to do so in the vast majority of cases, but you could. Nonlawyers may not represent anyone other than themselves, including codefendants. I suppose the situation Bricker outlines is possible, but I doubt many judges would permit it. The risks of conflicts of interest and the unauthorized practice of law are just too great.

You will sometimes find multiple prosecutors appearing in very serious, complex or high-profile cases, BTW. In the prosecutor’s office where I used to work (in a populous, urban Ohio county), the lead prosecutor would be called “first chair” and the other “second chair.” First chair was invariably an older, more experienced prosecutor; second chair was often younger or less experienced.

Apart from requiring the same colloquy that would be used before any pro se defendant could proceed, I don’t see a way for the judge to refuse to permit it. He could sever the trials, I guess, but failing that, each individual co-defendant has the same absolute right to represent himself. The judge could require standby counsel for each, but that’s it.

How are you picturing the judge could refuse to permit it?

They have the absolute right to represent themselves, and to counsel of their choosing. You are talking about a non-lawyer representing them.

And I postulated:

Do I need to spell out how this would work? Let’s imagine three co-defendants. Each goes pro se. Adam, Burt, Charlie. Adam gives an opening statement. Burt and Charlie don’t. Adam cross-examines prosecution witnesses. Burt and Charlie don’t.

In fact, Burt can testify by narrative and Adam can cross him.

Technically Adam represents only himself. But if their interests are truly not adverse, then his attack on the prosecution’s case helps Burt and Charlie too.


What happens when Adam starts asking questions that don’t relate to the charges against him?

What I was picturing in this hypothetical was a set of co-defendants whose interests were not adverse – that is, there’s no theory of the case that pits one against the other. As a corollary, I was picturing a identical set of charges against each co-defendant, arising from the same set of alleged facts.

I suppose we could imagine joinder, where one defendant was charged with offenses that others weren’t but whose interests could still be described as not adverse to each other… but that’s not what I was describing.

Even if their interests are not adverse, there is bound to be some evidence relevant to one or two and not one or all of the others. Let’s say there are four; all are innocent, but all four have different alibis. When Defendant One (acting as the “lead” defendant) calls the wife of Defendant Four, and elicits testimony that D4 was giving her the business on the night of the robbery…

Why is that bound to be so?

Sure, it could be, and if it is, then what I pictured wouldn’t work as well. But then I would not have said, “That is, if he impeaches the prosecution’s witnesses, that inures to the benefit of each co-defendant.” By that I meant to imply a common defense strategy and common theory of the case applicable to each defendant.

If that doesn’t exist, then what I described would be less effective.