In another bizarre twist of events surrounding the Bundy family, Nevada cattle rancher Cliven Bundy just lost his courtroom bid to be able to represent himself (pro se) at his upcoming criminal trial. The extreme “state’s rights” advocate is scheduled to go to trial this fall for the armed standoff in Nevada with Bureau of Land Management (BLM) agents back in 2014. Cliven Bundy and the other defendants currently face a retrial when they were acquitted by a jury for allegedly assaulting federal officer(s) and brandishing weapons. The defendants are accused of leading a conspiracy to prevent federal agents from removing Bundy cattle from illegally grazing on what is now Gold Butte National Monument.
In September, Mr. Bundy filed court documents saying he wanted his current defense attorney, Brett Whipple, removed from the case. Mr. Whipple had responded by saying he is bound by legal ethics to respect his client’s wishes. However, U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen ruled that Mr. Bundy could not fire his lawyer because Mr. Bundy would not recognize a court ruling that land could be owned by the federal government.
Jury selection is due to start October 10 in U.S. District Court for Bundy, his two sons, and four other men, including the two defendants whose retrial ended last month with acquittal on most charges.
Should You Represent Yourself in a Criminal Trial?
Self-representation is referred to as “pro se” representation. The 6th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees that all persons accused of criminal acts have the right to the assistance of counsel, which includes a public defender, if you cannot afford a lawyer. The U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted this to include the right of the accused to represent themselves at trial. See Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806 (1975).
Representing yourself in a criminal trial is a bad idea for several reasons:
- Most people do not understand the formal procedures and rules of criminal court. Missing a deadline or a mistaken filing can doom your case.
- You will not avail yourself all the available defenses. The law is a hard topic to master. Skilled criminal defense lawyers will know all the available defenses to you.
- You do not know California specific law. California has some of the most comprehensive and long criminal law statutes in the nation. Judges will not go easier on you just because you are representing yourself; you have to plead all the right motions under all the specific state statutes in order to win your case.