A University of Kansas law professor says that it isn’t usually a good idea for someone accused of a criminal offense to act as their own attorney, as accused Charleston shooter Dylann Roof is attempting to do.
“The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees to individuals the right to represent themselves,” said Professor Lumen “Lou” Mulligan, the Director of the Shook, Hardy & Bacon Center for Excellence in Advocacy at KU. “It seldom works out well for that defendant. It also creates quite a challenge for the trial court judge.”
The judge is supposed to be impartial, but that task is made more difficult by someone without formal law training.
“They have to, at the one hand, protect that person’s right to represent themselves as they see fit,” said Mulligan. “At the same time, that person, even though they’re not trained as a lawyer, has to live up to the decorum of the courtroom. They have to follow evidentiary rules and all that type of thing.”
One way some judges have solved that problem is to allow an attorney to advise a person who is representing themselves.
“Sometimes, that is accomplished by having an attorney in the courtroom with the defendant who is technically representing themselves,” said Mulligan. “That attorney acts as so-called elbow counsel. While not the attorney of record in the case, they might suggest things to the person representing him or herself along the way, such as, you can’t ask the question that way, or, you should object now, that type of thing. If the defendant is at all amenable to that, that’s usually best. Then that doesn’t put the judge in the position of stepping out of being a neutral arbiter and having to, in a sense, point out things to the defendant.”
The New York Times reported that Roof’s defense team, led by capital defense lawyer David I. Bruck, would now serve as advisory standby counsel in the case. Jury selection is expected to last several weeks.