"A Fool for a Client": Print Portrayals of 49 Pro Se Criminal Defendants

D. Mossman and J. Neal W. Dunseith,
Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law 29(4): 408-419, 2001.
In the United States, an accused person has a constitutionally protected right to serve as his or her own lawyer, even if this means he or she has "a fool for a client." In the current study, information from more than 2,700 articles in the LEXIS "U.S. New, Combined" database was used to produce what the authors believe is the psychiatric literature's first characterization of a group of pro se criminal defendants. The sample's 49 defendants had a broad age range (18\N75 years) and a broad range of educational backgrounds (9 to \g20 years of formal schooling). Men, attorneys, persons with other advanced degrees, and unemployed persons formed disproportionately large fractions of the sample, compared with the general population. The defendants faced a broad variety of charges; homicide was the most common one. Many had reasonable motives for representing themselves, such as dissatisfaction with their lawyers or believing that they could do as well without attorney representation. Defendants' apparent reasons for representing themselves fell into one of three categories: eccentric (16 defendants), ideological (4 defendants), and personal (19 defendants). These categories offer courts and evaluators three possible conceptualizations of a pro se defendant's behavior, outlook, and motivation.