Wednesday, October 24, 2007

People v. Hertzig (Cal. Ct. App. - Oct. 24, 2007)

Rarely do you see the Court of Appeal describe an impressive performance at trial by a criminal defendant who elected to represent himself. That's because pro per litigants are usually terrible. Awful. Horrible. Couldn't be worse.

But Justice Raye says many nice things about the defendant's performance in this opinion. Mind you, he doesn't say glowing things about the defendant himself, who displayed "a disturbing pattern of [] sexual exploitation of young girls" and who was convicted of molesting his 6-year old daughter, having sex with (and impregnating) his 15-year old sister, and possessing child pornography. But even profoundly disturbed individuals are -- apparently -- capable of being good attorneys. And Justice Raye describes defendant's performance at trial thusly:

"[T]he record of the ensuing proceedings attests to his effectiveness. His cross-examination of witnesses was appropriately gentle when confronting his young daughter and appropriately searing when confronting his ex-wife, who he asserted was the mastermind behind the false charges. His argument was cogent. He highlighted the weaknesses in the prosecution’s case, challenged the veracity of the prosecution’s witnesses, and offered a viable alternative to the prosecution’s theory. Even before trial began and he had the opportunity to demonstrate his legal prowess, the court had absolutely no reason to doubt his ability to defend himself. In sum, the court was presented with a bright, articulate, and competent defendant . . . ."

That's not a description you see every day. Admittedly, Justice Raye is saying all that not to be nice, but rather to justify the refusal to vacate defendant's convictions. So maybe one should somewhat take all those nice words with a grain of salt.

Regardless, I don't care how good you are: Don't represent yourself. Just don't do it. Even that public defender whom you hate will do a much, much better job than you will. Even if, as here, you aren't terrible. Trust me.