Is the right to represent oneself (pro se) a constitutional right? What is the legal basis for this right?
1 Answer from Attorneys
It is not a constitutional right and it is not an absolute right. It is also handled differently in criminal cases versus civil lawsuits, divorces, etc., and differently in state versus federal courts. In federal courts, there is no right to be self-represented at all in civil cases; it is left up to local rules, and almost all the federal courts only allow it in extrordinary circumstances. California state courts take a very liberal view of it, allowing self-representation in almost all circumstances in civil cases, but only when it is an individual representing only themselves. You cannot represent a partnership, or any other person, nor an LLC or corporation, unless you are a licensed attorney. In criminal courts the right to a trial by a jury of ones peers is implicated in the question of whether a person can represent themselves, even then, though the person must be found competent to do so, or it would deny them a fair trial to allow them to represent themselves. So it is not an absolute right.
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