Outside Publication

Pro Se Paternalism: The Contractual, Practical, and Behavioral Cases for Automatic Reversal, University of Pennsylvania Law Review, Volume 163


Johnnie Cochran, Robert Shapiro, and F. Lee Bailey all became famous as criminal defense attorneys. Television dramas depicting the high-stakes world of criminal trials, focusing on charismatic lawyers winning difficult cases, continue to captivate audiences around the country. Outside of the bright lights of Hollywood, however, the protagonists of these courtroom dramas often play little role at trial. Instead, when faced with the complexities and uncertainty of criminal trials, an increasingly large number of defendants choose to forgo the assistance of a lawyer. While defendants’ reasons for representing themselves are as varied as the charges levied against them, doing so consistently creates headaches for all parties involved. And where a pro se defendant’s behavior at trial raises questions about his competence, these headaches can quickly become more serious.

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