Plaintiff/defendant foolishly represents himself in court; how does he get destroyed?

I’ve represented myself on a minor matter, when I was broke and it didn’t matter. The magistrate started the day by announcing that he hadn’t done that list for a long time and didn’t know what he was doing. He was depending on the Prosecution/Defense to carry him. He was rude and overbearing towards me because he could be, and because I wasn’t a lawyer.

The prosecution had no case, and lost: it was a complete waste of the courts time, and the magistrate blamed me. It would have been a salutory reminder not to represent myself on anything important, if I had needed that.

There was an important political case here where the defendent was found guilty, because her defence was “I’m innocent”. She was released on appeal after she got a lawyer. I think that her main problem was that she was too dumb and ignorant to understand the kind of argument she would have to make. Apart from anythig else, that’s what having a lawyer is supposed to get you: a smart educated person.

Not exactly the same as mentioned above, but I spent a couple of decades representing the government in appeals of administrative decisions. In some percentage of cases (probably not as frequently as it felt, but more often than I felt appropriate) the reviewing court would (IMO) lean over backwards for a pro se plaintiff, bending (or ignoring) the law to hold for the plaintiff on equitable grounds.

So (IME) there might be a chance, in some fora, of a court giving some advantage to the little guy going it alone.

Far from it. They read, but they don’t understand.

They find a phrase or passage that seems to suit them, but for reasons they don’t understand (or trouble to look for) doesnt apply.

I guess a problem for non-lawyers is that the law is sort of fractal. Every general statement will be subject to unexpressed qualifications and exceptions that may not be worth mentioning in one case but are very important in another. You can’t mention every exception every time you mention such a general statement or you would get perpetually bogged down. But lawyers know how this works.

By way of trivial example, the self-rapper might take a general statement like “A man’s home is his castle” and take it as being of universal application, not realising that it is subject to powerful exceptions, like search warrants and like rules against setting lethal traps.

And another common problem is that self-representers think of their self-serving and possibly intoxicated memory of events as The Facts, and are blind to any contradictory evidence, which is airily dismissed by them as wrong. A self-repper might say “I wasn’t Mirandised, therefore the confession led against me wasn’t admissible!”, asserting this in the teeth of evidence from the police, which was found to be credible, that he was.

Finally, in response to Princhester, I would observe that he is right that some self-reppers succeed. But statistically they are few and far between, IME.

Though lets face it, thats not just a problem with litigants in person.:wink:

A fortnight ago I was appearing against a Petitioner-in-Person in an Appeal at the admission and interim injunction stage. I had an exceptionally weak case, but “opposing counsel” knew jack shit and helpfully made about a dozen blunders, the last of which got him admonished for misleading the bench. I got the stay and he got told to instruct an Advocate ASAP.

I’m one for one representing myself.

It was helpful that 1) it was on a claim I’d filed in small claims court, 2) the opposition didn’t show up, asking for a last minute postponement, and 3) the judge correctly decided they were stalling and awarded me the claim.

I highly doubt I’d ever try it again if I was the target of a small claims filing, never mind if it was a more significant civil or any kind of criminal matter.

Civilly, also? I’ve never seen statistics. I suspect you are right though.

I am not a number, I am a free man!

It’s actually a good idea to go pro se on many minor matters- traffic tickets, low level civil cases, etc. Indeed, on many of these the judge will give you a few breaks.

In fact, in CA, in Small Claims, you generally can’t hire a lawyer. (oh, and if a Corp is a defendant, it is usually a really bad idea for them to send a legal eagle in, the Judge will usually lose patience with legal maneuvers. )

But not on anything you cant afford to lose. Felonies? No way, never, you’re a fool.

Oh god, yes. This is always one of the most difficult things to make clients understand.

I’m a workers’ compensation defense lawyer. So far, I haven’t had any substantive proceedings involving pro se litigants. I do get daily orders from our judges, though, and there is usually one order on the merits per week, give or take.

99% of the time, pro se litigants lose because they fail to meet their burden of proof. In a workers’ compensation claim - whether the issue is whether the injury is work-related, or whether it is something more limited like whether additional medical care or wage loss is due - medical evidence is generally required to sustain the burden of proof.

Most pro se claimants show up and say, “Judge, I was injured at work on [date] and they cut me off, but my arm still hurts. I want to see a doctor.” The judge will then ask if they have evidence that additional treatment is medically necessary, and they’ll say, “well, my arm hurts.” Lay testimony is not admissible (or at least not sufficient) to establish causation and medical necessity, so the judge will say, “sorry, I have to deny your claim.”

At best, they will show up to trial with a stack of medical records that were not previously provided to the opposing party, and attempt to enter them into evidence. In this state, records from authorized providers are admissible without authentication and not subject to hearsay objections, but they must be moved into evidence 30 days before trial. So the judge is forced to uphold hearsay and authenticity objections raised by the opposing party, and the claimant still fails to meet his burden.

The cardinal rule of cross-examination is never ask a question you don’t know the answer to. Normally, a civil defendant will have deposed any trial witness (particularly the plaintiff) before trial, and therefore have a reasonable understanding of how he will testify (or be able to use the deposition for impeachment if the story completely changes). Unless the plaintiff’s deposition testimony was contradictory, it’s probably not a good idea to bait him into contradicting himself. Of course, if he contradicts his deposition testimony, then you can impeach and maybe win your case on that alone (particularly if the plaintiff’s testimony is unusually significant, such as when he is the sole witness to the underlying incident).

As a general rule, when there are two unrepresented parties in a civil action, the plaintiff should lose. The plaintiff has the burden of proof, so a tie goes to the defendant. A pro se litigant’s biggest problem is understanding what evidence is admissible and/or sufficient to prove an element of the claim.

A friend of mine refers to such people as having “delusions of entrepreneurship.”

I was jury foreman for a civil trial with the plaintiff representing himself. Procedure was his problem. He was suing the DOT for more money for land that was being taken for road widening. The DOT had two attorneys. The plaintiff apparently had an appraisal for a higher amount than the DOT appraisal. The DOT had their appraiser testify about how he made the appraisal. The plaintiff only had the written appraisal. He was not allowed to enter it as evidence because there was no one to testify about how it was done. So, the only evidence we had was the DOT appraisal. I am sure that we would have awarded the higher amount had it been seen by us. We awarded the amount of the DOT appraisal. If he had been represented, he would have won. A friend of mine who is a plaintiff’s attorney told me the fee on a case like this would have been half of what was awarded above the DOT appraisal.