You're probably familiar with the expression that anyone who represents himself in court has a fool for a client. While that statement may sound biased coming from an attorney, it holds true in most cases, especially when federal charges are involved. These cases are extremely complicated and carry significantly higher penalties. But such warnings didn't stop a man facing charges in Milwaukee from considering it.
The man, who worked as an armored car driver for several years in Milwaukee during the 1990s, was facing federal charges after being accused of stealing nearly $4 million by staging robberies with the help of his wife and son. Both family members pleaded guilty earlier this year.
Prosecutors said the man's first crime happened after his wife agreed to meet him on his delivery route and took a bag that he gave her containing almost $160,000; he explained to police that he didn't know how it had disappeared. A few years later he staged a robbery of a money vault with the help of his son, who worked at the security company as a clerk.
The family later moved to Portland, Oregon, where the man is said to have staged more robberies that ended with his pocketing millions of dollars in cash. Federal agents became suspicious while tracking his and his son's history of being victims of the same crime numerous times, and his son ultimately tipped off investigators.
When it came time for him to stand trial on charges of conspiracy, bank larceny, money laundering and possession of stolen bank funds, the man decided to represent himself in court, explaining that he and his court-appointed lawyer didn't agree on a fundamental part of his defense and that he just needed a bit more time to prepare. The judge allowed the decision, but asked the man's court-appointed lawyer to advise him. It only took a 15-minute recess during the proceedings for the defendant to change his mind and plead guilty to some of the charges against him.
This case ended with a guilty plea and sentence, but if the defendant continued to represent himself, he could have been hit with an even higher penalty. An attorney who knows the federal court system is in a much better position than the average defendant to fight for that defendant's rights and ensure they receive a fair trial.
Source: OregonLive.com, "Minutes before trial in armored car heist, former driver switches gears," Bryan Denson, Sept. 17, 2012
· Our firm handles federal charges and a wide variety of other criminal defense cases. To learn more about our practice, visit our Wisconsin criminal defense page.