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Should Misdemeanor Defendants Waive Their Right To An Attorney?

  • Birdsall Obear

The short answer is no. Despite the designation of misdemeanors as “minor” offenses, a misdemeanor on your criminal record can have majorly negative consequences. Fortunately, theUS Constitution protects your right to legal counsel to help you avoid jail time, fines, and other penalties resulting from a misdemeanor conviction. 

Unfortunately, a nationwide shortage of public defenders has led some prosecutors to propose plea deals to clients to avoid spreading public defenders too thin. These plea deals may keep you out of jail immediately, but you will still have to deal with the long-lasting consequences of a guilty conviction. 


Understaffed courthouses should not dissuade you from your right to representation by legal counsel. However, do not waive your right to counsel and accept a plea deal for a crime to get out of jail. 


Why Do Misdemeanor Defendants Waive Their Right To An Attorney?


There are several reasons why misdemeanor defendantssometimes choose to waive their right to an attorney. These reasons include a desire to avoid further delays in the legal process - the “get it over with” mentality - and promises by the prosecution that the defendant will stay out of jail. 


While a plea deal may expedite the legal process, you could miss an opportunity for reduced sentencing or even case dismissal if you waive your right to an attorney. In addition, an attorney can help you secure rights you may not know you are entitled to, such as deferred prosecution, community service, payment plans for fees, job accommodations, or even finding a defense that could get your case thrown out. 


Do Not Consent To a Plea Deal Without Calling a Lawyer


You may find the terms of a plea deal enticing, but a misdemeanor conviction will remain on your criminal record. In addition, a conviction may impact travel, employment, professional licenses, and housing and require you to provide community service. If you fail to complete these requirements, you may be re-arrested, and because you pled guilty to the original charge, defense options in these circumstances are limited. 


Do not consent to a plea deal without consulting an attorney if you face misdemeanor charges. Even if a public defender is available, their time and experience may be spread too thin to represent you adequately. Therefore, it is essential to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney to prevent the long-lasting effects of a misdemeanor charge on your record.