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Pro Se (legal term)

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Pro Se is a legal term used for someone who opts to represent himself/herself either in a criminal or civil court proceeding. While Pro Se is the proper term for it in New York, other jurisdictions call it Pro Per. A popular phrase associated with this is "He/she who represents himself/herself has a fool for a client. This is because self-representation is considered the most foolish act in the legal profession because private citizens don't have as much knowledge of the legal system at their disposal and don't have the same resources an attorney has to research and prepare for their case.

Known Pro Se defendants and litigantsEdit

Law & OrderEdit

Simon J. Vilanis (L&O: "The Working Stiff")

  • Charges: One count of murder in the second degree.
  • Legal background: No legal training.
  • When he started representing himself: Arraignment
  • Standby counsel: Alice Cantwell
  • Actions as attorney:
    • Turns down every plea they offer.
  • Result: Charges dismissed due to exculpatory evidence.

Susan Boyd (L&O: "Animal Instinct")

  • Charges: One count of murder in the second degree.
  • Legal background: Self-taught.
  • When she started representing herself: Pre-trial
  • Actions as attorney:
    • Files 16 motions to delay her trial for ten months.
  • Result: Unknown if Susan was ever tried for murder.

Sid Fisher (L&O: "Sweeps")

  • Charges: One count of murder in the second degree.
  • Legal background: No legal training.
  • When he started representing himself: Pre-trial
  • Actions as attorney:
    • Took a plea of one count of manslaughter in the first degree to serve a sentence of 8-to-25 years in prison, if he tells the truth and testifies against Richard Mason.
  • Result: Found guilty and Fisher testifies at Mason's trial. Mason is found not guilty of manslaughter in the first degree but is found guilty of criminal facilitation in the first degree.

Phillip "Phil" Swann (Criminal case) (L&O: "American Dream")

  • Charges: One count of murder in the second degree.
  • Legal background: Self-taught.
  • When he started representing himself: Post-trial
  • Actions as attorney:
    • Files an appeal to grant him a new trial after police find Sid Cohen's body. (granted)
    • Files a motion that the trial continue without the prosecution's prime witness, Russell Bobbitt. (granted)
    • Files a motion to suppress Bobbitt's testimony. (granted)
    • Cross-examines Chip Rafferty.
    • Cross-examines Billy Doyle.
    • Testifies in the narrative.
    • Delivers his summation.
  • Result: Found not guilty at his retrial.

Phillip Swann & Benjamin Stone (Swann vs. Stone & the State of New York) (L&O: "American Dream")

  • Case: Swann sues the state and Stone personally for $10 million for malicious prosecution and civil rights violations after his conviction is overturned and he is found not guilty at his re-trial.
  • Legal background: Self-taught. (Swann) Attended law school, graduated, passed the bar, & became an assistant district attorney. (Stone)
  • When he started representing himself: Pre-trial (both)
  • Actions as attorney:
    • Swann deposed Stone on all his financials, tax returns, and his history as a prosecutor.
  • Result: Suit is dropped after Swann is arrested and convicted for ordering the murder of a witness through the use of his prison clients.

Paul Kopell (L&O: "House Counsel")

  • Charges: Conspiracy to commit second-degree murder.
  • Legal training: Attended New York University School of Law, graduated, passed the bar, & became a defense attorney.
  • When he started representing himself: Pre-trial
  • Actions as attorney:
    • Files a motion to dismiss based on insufficient evidence. (judge held a hearing before ruling)
      • When John Furini testifies against him, Kopell tries to discredit him. (failed and Kopell's motion is denied)
    • Delivers his summation.
  • Result: Found guilty.

Drew Seeley (L&O: "Progeny")

  • Charges: One count of murder in the to first degree.
  • Legal background: No legal training.
  • When he started representing himself: Pre-trial
  • Actions as attorney:
    • Delivered opening arguments.
    • Cross-examines Dr. Simon Reed.
    • Testifies in the narrative.
    • Took a plea of one count of murder in the second degree with a sentence of 20 years-to-life imprisonment in prison.
  • Result: Found guilty.

James Stephen Smith (L&O: "Pro Se")

  • Charges: Three counts of murder in the second degree, one count of attempted murder in the second degree, & two counts of aggravated assault on a police officer.
  • Legal background: Attended University of Michigan Law School, graduated summa cum laude law review, with a Postdoctoral Associateship, & passed the bar.
  • When he started representing himself: Pre-trial
  • Standby counsel: Mr. Lowe
  • Actions as attorney:
    • Files an omnibus motion to suppress all the evidence. (denied)
    • Changed his plea from not guilty to not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect.
    • Cross-examines Dr. Elizabeth Olivet.
    • Cross-examines Joanne Ellis.
    • Took a plea of three counts of manslaughter in the first degree with a sentence of six years in a forensic hospital and when he is paroled he will have to take medication or be sent back.
  • Result: Found guilty.

Arthur Rigg (L&O: "Expert")

  • Charges: Two counts of murder in the first degree.
  • Legal background: No legal training.
  • When he started representing himself: Post-trial
  • Actions as attorney:
    • Files multiple appeals to vacate his conviction. This including one based on Acevedo v. US. (denied)
  • Result: All appeals denied.

Phillip "Phil" Christie (L&O: "Nullification")

  • Charges: One count of murder in the first degree, one count of attempted murder in the first degree, one count of conspiracy in the first degree, one count of attempted grand larceny in the first degree.
  • Legal background: No legal training.
  • When he started representing himself: Arraignment (note: he also represented his 19 other co-defendants)
  • Standby counsel: Sarah Mandel
  • Actions as attorney:
    • Files a motion to dismiss all charges on the grounds that he and his accomplices are prisoners of war. (denied)
    • Subpoenas several members of U.S. Government to testify in his defense. (denied)
    • Objects to the removal of his co-defendants. (overruled)
    • Cross-examines Forensics Technician Arlene Shrier.
    • Cross-examines Andrew Parent.
    • Cross-examines Kay Bryant.
    • Argues against the dismissal of two jurors. (loses)
    • Testifies in the narrative.
    • Delivers his summation.
  • Result: Mistrial declared due to the jury being unable to reach a verdict.

Charles "Charlie" Harmon (L&O: "Disappeared")

  • Charges: One count of murder in the second degree & nine counts of bribery.
  • Legal background: Attended Columbia University Law School, graduated, passed the bar, & became an assistant district attorney.
  • When he started representing himself: Post-trial
  • Actions as attorney:
    • Files an appeal to vacate his conviction. (denied)
      • Files a motion that he be granted bail pending the outcome of his appeal. (denied)
  • Result: Harmon remains imprisoned for his crimes and his appeal is denied.

Richard Morriston (L&O: "Hubris")

  • Charges: Four counts of murder in the first degree.
  • Legal background: Attended University of Utah Law School.
  • When he started representing himself: Pre-trial
  • Standby counsel: Paul Lyman
  • Actions as attorney:
    • Files a motion to suppress Beth Fazekas' necklace as evidence. (denied)
    • Files a motion to suppress his prior fraud conviction as evidence. (the conviction is let in, but not its underlying facts)
    • Delivered opening arguments.
    • Cross-examines Assistant M.E. James Herrick with Lyman's help.
    • Cross-examines Mary Fazekas.
    • Cross-examines Detective Lennie Briscoe.
    • Cross-examines a Gemprint Technician.
    • Calls Annette Perry to testify in his defense.
    • Has Lyman question himself with questions he prepared.
  • Result: Mistrial declared due to the jury being unable to reach a verdict (The result of Morriston manipulating the jury forewoman, Carol Gibbons).

Harold Jensen (L&O: "Attorney Client")

  • Charges: One count of murder in the second degree.
  • Legal background: Attended law school, graduated, passed the bar, & became a defense attorney.
  • When he started representing himself: During trial
  • Standby counsel: Charlotte Swan
  • Actions as attorney:
    • Testifies in the narrative.
    • Files a motion to call Executive ADA Jack McCoy to testify in his defense. (denied)
    • Delivers his summation.
    • Files an appeal to overturn his conviction based on the judge denying Jensen's motion to question McCoy. (denied)
  • Result: Found guilty. Files an appeal and loses.

Greg Alan Landen aka Mousah Salim (L&O: "American Jihad")

  • Charges: Two counts of murder in the second degree.
  • Legal background: No legal training.
  • When he started representing himself: During trial
  • Standby counsel: Anwar Mohammed
  • Actions as attorney:
    • Cross-examines Forensic Technician Julian Beck.
    • Cross-examines Mr. Landen.
    • Testifies in the narrative.
    • Took a plea of two counts of manslaughter in the first degree to serve a sentence of 8-to-25 years in prison.
  • Result: Found guilty on all counts.

Gordon Samuels (L&O: "Gunplay")

  • Charges: Two counts of murder in the first degree.
  • Legal background: Attended law school, graduated, passed the bar, & became a civil attorney.
  • When he started representing himself: Pre-trial
  • Standby counsel: Roger Porter
  • Actions as attorney:
    • Cross-examined Preston Hubbard.
    • Calls Detective Luisa Valenzuela to testify in his defense.
  • Result: Found guilty on all counts.

Davey Buckley (L&O: "Locomotion")

  • Charges: Twelve counts of murder in the second degree.
  • Legal background: No legal training.
  • When he started representing himself: During trial
  • Standby counsel: Rodney Fallon
  • Actions as attorney:
    • Changes his plea from not guilty by reason of insanity to not guilty.
    • Has Fallon question himself with questions he prepared.
    • Cross-examines James Buckley.
  • Result: Found guilty on all counts.

Leland Barnes (L&O: "Criminal Law")

  • Charges: Four counts of murder in the second degree & Three counts of assault with intent to murder.
  • Legal background: Attended law school, graduated, passed the bar, & became an attorney.
  • When he started representing himself: Post-trial
  • Standby counsel: Paul Bakalis
  • Actions as attorney:
    • Files an appeal to overturn his conviction on the grounds of ineffective counsel. (granted)
    • Argues for bail (denied)
    • Files a motion to exclude the witnesses prior testimony on the grounds of ineffective cross-examination. (judge held a hearing before excluding the testimony and remands him until then)
      • Barnes argues that the People have failed to meet their burden for the hearing. (The judge grants Leland's motion but leaves the door open for another hearing
    • Interviews Elaine Bowman.
    • Files a motion to dismiss all charges. (granted)
  • Result: Conviction overturned, charges dismissed due to insufficient evidence (due to the witnesses being killed on his orders or intimidated by him).

Victor Vargas Montero (L&O: "Political Animal")

  • Charges: Three counts of murder in the second degree.
  • Legal background: Attended law school, graduated, passed the bar, & became a civil attorney. Was later disbarred.
  • When she started representing himself: Arraignment
  • Actions as attorney:
    • Cross-examines Franklin Slater.
    • Calls Senator Melanie Carver to testify in his defense.
    • Testifies in the narrative.
  • Result: Found guilty on all counts.

Katherine Waxman (L&O: "Betrayal")

  • Charges: One count of murder in the second degree.
  • Legal background: No legal training.
  • When she started representing herself: Pre-trial
  • Standby counsel: Mr. Whitney
  • Actions as attorney:
    • Cross-examines Emma Waxman.
    • Cross-examines Dr. Lydia Stronach.
    • Calls Dr. Elizabeth Olivet to testify in her defense.
    • Testifies in the narrative.
    • Took a plea of murder in the second degree with a sentence of 15 years-to-life imprisonment with the possibility of parole.
  • Result: Found guilty.

Theodore "Ted" F. Sanderson (L&O: "Strike")

  • Charges: One count of murder in the second degree.
  • Legal background: No legal training.
  • When he started representing himself: Pre-trial
  • Actions as attorney:
    • Files a motion for ADA Connie Rubirosa to be reappointed as his attorney for his murder trial. (granted)
  • Result: Rubirosa is reappointed as his defense attorney. Took a plea of one count of vehicular homicide to serve a sentence of 8 1\3-to-25 years in prison.

Cyrus Lupo (L&O: "Knock Off")

  • Charges: One count of interference of governmental administration.
  • Legal background: Attended Brooklyn Law School.
  • When he started representing himself: Arraignment
  • Actions as attorney:
    • Argues to be released ROR. (denied and bail is set at $20,000)
  • Result: Charges dismissed due to exculpatory evidence.

Martin "Marty" Winston (L&O: "By Perjury")

  • Charges: One count of murder in the second degree.
  • Legal background: Attended law school, graduated, passed the bar, & became a civil attorney.
  • When he started representing himself: Arraignment
  • Actions as attorney:
    • Argues for bail. (bail is set at $1 million)
    • Files a motion for a gag order and for the courtroom to be closed. (granted)
    • Files a motion asking for financial disclosure affidavits from EADA Michael Cutter and ADA Connie Rubirosa.
    • Files a motion to suppress the car and gun casing connecting him to the murder. (judge held a hearing before ruling)
      • Cross-examines Detective Cyrus Lupo. (judge grants Winston's motion)
    • Files a motion to dismiss the charges with prejudice (granted)
    • Files a motion that the trial record be sealed. (granted)
  • Result: Charges dismissed with prejudice due to insufficient evidence attaching double jeopardy.

Law & Order: Special Victims UnitEdit

Pam Adler (SVU: "Ridicule")

  • Charges: One count of rape in the first degree, one count of sodomy in the first degree, one count of unlawful imprisonment, and one count of assault in the third degree
  • Legal background: Attended law school, graduated, passed the bar, & became a defense attorney.
  • When she started representing herself: Arraignment
  • Co-Counsel: Carolyn Maddox
  • Actions as attorney:
  • Result: Found not guilty of rape, sodomy and unlawful imprisonment but found guilty of assault.

Arthur Esterman (SVU: "Lust")

  • Charges: Two counts of murder in the second degree. (unofficially)
  • Legal background: Attended Harvard Law School, graduated, passed the bar & became a civil attorney.
  • When he started representing himself: Pre-arrest
  • Actions as attorney:
    • Argued against the People's motion to test his donated blood. (motion is granted but is limited to things hospitals would test for)
  • Result: Arrested and convicted of both counts of murder.

Michael Gardner (1st arrest) (SVU: "Futility")

  • Charges: Four counts of rape in the first degree.
  • Legal background: No legal training.
  • When he started representing himself: Pre-trial
  • Standby counsel: Erin Russ
  • Actions as attorney:
    • Files a motion to sever the rape charges. (granted)
    • Files a motion to dismiss three of the rape charges. (granted)
    • Cross-examines Carrie Huitt.
    • Cross-examines Detective Olivia Benson.
    • Subpoenas Bethany Taylor to testify in his defense. (judge quashes the subpoena after she interviews Taylor)
  • Result: Mistrial declared due to Gardner being murdered by Russ.

Michael Gardner (2nd arrest) (SVU: "Futility")

  • Charges: Intimidating a victim in the third degree, menacing in the second degree, & stalking in the fourth degree.
  • Legal background: No legal training.
  • When he started representing himself: Arraignment
  • Actions as attorney:
    • Pleads not guilty.
    • Files a motion to dismiss the charges as facially insufficient. (granted)
  • Result: Charges dismissed due to insufficient evidence.

Denise Pikering (SVU: "Pretend")

  • Charges: One count of rape in the third degree.
  • Legal background: No legal training.
  • When she started representing herself: Pre-trial
  • Standby counsel: Unnamed public defender
  • Actions as attorney:
    • Cross-examines Scott Heston.
  • Result: Mistrial declared after Scott confessed he murdered his friend, Riley Cuskey, so he could have her.

Darius Parker (SVU: "Screwed")

  • Charges: One count of murder in the second degree and one count of assault in the first degree.
  • Legal background: Self-taught.
  • When he started representing himself: Pre-trial
  • Co-Counsel: Matthew Braden
  • Actions as attorney:
  • Result: Found not guilty of murder and assault.

Merritt Rook (SVU: "Authority")

  • Charges: One count of conspiracy to commit sexual abuse in the first degree.
  • Legal background: No legal training.
  • When he started representing himself: Arraignment
  • Actions as attorney:
    • Pleads not guilty.
    • Agrees to a bail of $250,000.
    • Cross-examines Detective Elliot Stabler.
    • Cross-examines Lieutenant Ruben Morales.
    • Testifies in the narrative.
    • Delivers his summation.
  • Result: Found not guilty.

Ingrid Block (SVU: "Confidential")

  • Charges: One count of facilitating a murder in the second degree.
  • Legal background: Attended law school, graduated, passed the bar, & became a defense attorney.
  • When she started representing herself: Pre-trial
  • Actions as attorney:
    • Cross-examines Detective Elliot Stabler.
    • Testifies in the narrative.
    • Calls Daniel Hardy to testify in her defense.
  • Result: Directed verdict of not guilty due to exculpatory evidence.

Orville Underwood (SVU: "Possessed")

  • Charges: Conspiracy to commit first-degree rape.
  • Legal background: Attended law school, graduated, passed the bar & became a civil rights attorney.
  • When he started representing himself: Pre-trial
  • Actions as attorney:
    • Files a motion to suppress his kiddie porn novels as evidence of a conspiracy. (granted)
  • Result: Charges dismissed due to insufficient evidence.

Omar Pena (SVU: "Justice Denied")

  • Charges: One count of rape in the first degree.
  • Legal background: Self-taught.
  • When he started representing himself: Post-trial
  • Actions as attorney:
    • Files a motion to vacate his conviction based on new evidence. (denied)
  • Result: His appeal is denied.

Delia Wilson (SVU: "Lost Reputation")

  • Charges: One count of promoting prostitution in the third degree.
  • Legal background: No legal training.
  • When she started representing herself: Pre-trial
  • Actions as attorney:
    • Files s motion to dismiss all charges after the murder of Iris Peterson. (granted)
  • Result: Charges dismissed due to dismissed due to insufficient evidence.

Richard Purcell (People vs. Richard Purcell) (SVU: "Legitimate Rape")

  • Charges: One count of rape in the first degree, one count of stalking in the fourth degree.
  • Legal background: Attended Fordham University & graduated.
  • When he started representing himself: During trial
  • Actions as attorney:
    • Cross-examines Jason Hollis.
    • Cross-examines Detective Olivia Benson.
    • Calls Congressman Fritz Showalter to testify in his defense.
    • Cross-examines Avery Jordan.
  • Result: Found not guilty of rape but found guilty of stalking and sentenced to time served.

Richard Purcell (Purcell vs Jordan) (SVU: "Legitimate Rape")

  • Case: Filed for custody of his son.
  • Legal background: Attended Fordham University & graduated.
  • Actions as attorney:
    • Cross-examines Avery Jordan.
  • Result: Avery is granted full custody of her son, but Purchell is allowed supervised visits.

William Lewis (SVU: "Psycho/Therapist")

  • Charges: One count of attempted murder in the first degree, one count of attempted rape in the first degree, one count of assault of a police officer, and one count of kidnapping in the first degree.
  • Legal background: No legal training.
  • When he started representing himself: Pre-trial
  • Standby counsel: Martha Marron
  • Actions as attorney:
    • Cross-examines Detective Odafin Tutuola.
    • Cross-examines Detective Amanda Rollins.
    • Cross-examines Detective Nick Amaro.
    • Calls Viva Nunez to testify in his defense.
    • Calls Dr. Patel to testify in his defense.
    • Cross-examines Detective Olivia Benson.
    • Delivered his summation.
  • Result: Found not guilty of attempted murder and attempted rape but found guilty of assault on a police officer and kidnapping.

Greg Yates (SVU: "Daydream Believer")

  • Charges: One count of rape in the first degree, One count of sodomy in the first degree, & one count of murder in the first degree.
  • Legal background: No legal training.
  • When he started representing himself: Pre-trial
  • Standby counsel: Sofia Crane
  • Actions as attorney:
    • Cross-examines Dr. Melinda Warner. (1st time)
    • Cross-examines Detective Erin Lindsay.
    • Cross-examines Sergeant Olivia Benson.
    • Has Crane question himself with questions he prepared.
    • Cross-examines Dr. Melinda Warner. (2nd time)
    • Files an appeal to overturn his conviction.
  • Result: Found guilty on all counts. Later appeals his conviction, but the appeal is dropped after Yates escapes and is killed by Detective Lindsay.

Law & Order: Trial By JuryEdit

Andrew Soin (TBJ: "Bang & Blame")

  • Charges: One count of murder in the second degree & one count of assault with intent to murder.
  • Legal background: No legal training.
  • When he started representing himself: Pre-trial
  • Actions as attorney:
    • Files a motion to visit his son, Joey, in the hospital. (denied)
    • Delivers his opening arguments.
    • Cross-examines Anji Reddy.
    • Cross-examines NYPD Switchboard Operator Mr. Mudgett.
    • Files a motion to dismiss all charges based on prosecutorial misconduct. (denied, but the jury is instructed to consider that the operator's testimony came with a silent promise not to prosecute)
    • Cross-examines Albert Hsu.
    • Cross-examines Jocelyn Webber.
    • Testifies in the narrative.
  • Result: Found guilty on all counts.

TriviaEdit

  • Denis O'Hare and Dallas Roberts are the only known actors to have portrayed two or more characters that have represented themselves pro se.

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