Why friends don’t let friends enter a courtroom without a lawyer

“A fool for a client and an imbecile for a lawyer…” the old saying goes, when it comes to acting as your own lawyer. It is so true.

Let me first say, I’m not talking about people who are legitimately too poor to hire counsel. I know better than most the importance of quality public defense. I’m talking about people who have money but have their priorities are all wrong.

In my experience, the number one reason people act as their own counsel is not financial hardship, but a foolish belief that “I can do just as good a job.” The “do it yourself” or “DIY” movement has picked up steam in recent years. It has a lot to offer those looking to build a woodshed or brew their own beer. In real-life criminal court, not so much.

I do not argue that lawyers have some magic charisma or special access to information. The reality is that lawyers are not any smarter than the average person. We learn the rules of law and you can too…its all public record available at the library.

However, knowing the law is very different than knowing how to be an effective courtroom lawyer. You may know the rules of football but that doesn’t mean you want to jump into the middle of the game. And make no mistakes, it is modern-day combat. A skilled prosecutor knows how to set a trap and make the self-representing client fall right into it.

So what sets defense lawyers apart if not our brains? Simply put, it’s what we do and what we know. Just as a pro athlete spends hours upon hours perfecting and improving upon the smallest performance elements, this is exactly how we hone our craft. We are good at it because we spend all day working to be good at it, and we have the knowledge because we make it our business to be in the know. I would not expect to compete one-on-one with Lebron James at basketball. Similarly, the average defendant should not go one-on-one with an Assistant District Attorney in a courtroom.

It baffles me how someone with a normal middle class income would balk at paying a few thousand dollars for competent counsel to defend a criminal charge carrying jail time. Even if you only make $25,000 a year, two years in jail will cost you $50,000 in lost income…not to mention that little thing called your freedom!

It’s true that sometimes people get lucky and skate through the system without a lawyer. But even those who are lucky enough to dodge jail time usually end up with more headaches, worse results, and only themselves to blame. The decision I included below illustrates this perfectly. It only will take a minute to read, and be sure not to miss the footnotes.

466 Mass. 1007 (2013)


September 17, 2013.
The petitioner, Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, appeals from a judgment of a single justice of this court denying his petition pursuant to G. L. c. 211, § 3. We affirm.

Afrasiabi was charged in a complaint with criminal harassment in violation of G. L. c. 265, § 43A (a). He thereafter filed numerous motions in the District Court including, among other things, several motions to dismiss; a motion for a change of venue; motions to compel documents; and a motion for a “show cause” hearing, all of which were denied. Afrasiabi subsequently filed his G. L. c. 211, § 3, petition in the county court asking the court to stay the trial; to change venue; to compel discovery; and to order a “probable cause” hearing. [FN1] The single justice denied the petition.

This appeal is subject to S.J.C. Rule 2:21, as amended, 434 Mass. 1301 (2001), which requires the appellant to file “a memorandum of not more than ten pages . . . in which the appellant must set forth the reasons why review of the trial court decision cannot adequately be obtained on appeal from any final adverse judgment in the trial court or by other available means.” S.J.C. Rule 2:21 (2). Afrasiabi has failed to comply with the requirements of the rule. As an initial matter, he has filed a full brief pursuant to Mass. R. A. P. 16, as amended, 428 Mass. 1603 (1999), rather than a preliminary memorandum in compliance with rule 2:21. [FN2] Furthermore, to the extent that he even addresses the issue of adequate appellate review, he argues only that there are discrepancies in the Commonwealth’s case and that it would be unfair to subject him to a trial without first holding a hearing. Even if Afrasiabi were entitled to such a hearing, the failure to hold one, and the trial court’s denial of his request for one, are matters that can be addressed in a direct appeal. See Commonwealth v. Irick, 58 Mass. App. Ct. 129, 132-133 (2003), citing Commonwealth v. Leger, 52 Mass. App. Ct. 232, 242 (2001). The other issues that Afrasiabi raises can also be addressed in a direct appeal. The single justice did not err or abuse her discretion in denying relief under G. L. c. 211, § 3.

Judgment affirmed.

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, pro se, submitted a brief.

FN1 Afrasiabi variously refers in his papers to a “show cause” hearing and a “probable cause” hearing. It is not relevant, for our purposes here, which type of hearing he actually seeks.

FN2 This is not the first time that Afrasiabi has failed to comply with rule 2:21 in this manner. See Afrasiabi v. Rooney, 432 Mass. 1006 (2000).