In cases where a criminal defendant rejects the service of counsel and defends himself pro se, how often is he acquitted?

  • It's basically impossible to answer without somehow gathering stats from all courts. Dec 4, 2016 at 20:20
  • 1
    In the U.S. it would be difficult to distinguish these cases. For example, depending on the severity of the crime, a court can choose to appoint a lawyer for the defense despite the objections of the defendant. IIRC, this is mandatory in capital trials.
    – feetwet
    Dec 4, 2016 at 20:23
  • @feetwet: Apparently not mandatory in federal capital cases: latimes.com/nation/nationnow/… Dec 4, 2016 at 23:07
  • In minor criminal cases, where someone does not have a right to a public defender because he is too affluent and can afford an attorney, pro se parties sometimes do all right. In serious criminal cases, where someone refuses counsel because he is crazy or a fanatic, the results are almost uniformly very bad for the defendant, and the rare cases where a defendant wins are often examples of jury nullification.
    – ohwilleke
    Dec 5, 2016 at 9:18
  • Purely by statistics, most pro se defendants do poorly because most of them are wackos. If you only looked at the "sane" pro se defendants, they would probably have a decent, but not great, record. The main problem is that when a person defends themself, they tend to "look guilty". For example, if you get up and say "I didn't do it." people think you are lying, but if some 3rd person (ie your lawyer) gets up and says "He didn't do it." it sounds more plausible. In other words, if you "defend" yourself, you look guilty. The key is to attack only, never defend, but most pro se's don't get that.
    – Cicero
    May 8, 2017 at 21:26

1 Answer 1


This paper studies the question, in a restricted context of federal cases (the main problem is getting data, but turns out that some federal court clerks have been obliging). From that database, between 1998-2011 1,156,460 felony cases were resolved. 0.2% of those cases were pro se representations with virtually all cases having professional representation ("data missing" is 10 times more frequent than pro se, and the only thing rarer was pro bono attorney at 0.03%).

As for outcomes, it is possible that pro se defendants had the charges dismissed at a higher rate (16.9% pro se vs. 6.1% represented -- "possible" is a way of simplifying the statistical problems in interpreting these numbers); with acquittals it's a wash, and with convictions pro se defendants may have done worse (14.8% pro se, 4.9% represented). There also seems to be a trend that juries convict pro se defendants more often than they do represented defendants (90% vs. 77.9%).

Ah, and this paper follows up and contradicts the findings of the Hashimoto study, linked in the comments.

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