Durham Murder Defendant Appoints New Attorney: Herself

in Homicide, on

Last month, we posted about a Wake County court’s refusal to reduce the bail for a 34-year-old woman charged with killing her boyfriend. The defendant gained unfortunate notoriety in 2006 when she accused members of the Duke University lacrosse team of rape.

The defendant notified her attorney earlier this week that she wants to represent herself at her upcoming trial. Her attorney said he will file a motion to withdraw, but he will do so reluctantly. He would only say that it just is not a good idea for someone to serve as his or her own attorney, but the unspoken question for court watchers is, does she have a fool for a client?

Her boyfriend died in April 2011, 10 days after the defendant stabbed him. She maintains that she was acting in self-defense.

The decision to represent herself was hailed as a “wonderful idea” by her advocate, a non-lawyer who has been warned by the North Carolina Bar Association about practicing law without a license. He said the defendant’s attorney would not share information with her; the attorney dismissed the accusation and warned the media not to listen to the advocate.

A defendant certainly has the right to represent herself or himself, but it can be a risky move. Experienced defense attorneys understand the rules of evidence and the rules of criminal procedure. Criminal cases rise and fall on what can be included as evidence. Working with witnesses and cross-examining the prosecution’s witnesses involves intimate knowledge of what issues can and cannot be raised.

Judges will often offer guidance to pro se defendants, and they may also be more lenient about some rules. In a case like this, though, when the defendant is charged with homicide and courts have ruled against her in the past, that help cannot be counted on.

The defendant’s departing attorney said that he hoped the woman would realize that she has a difficult hand to play in a game where the stakes are extraordinarily high.

Source: Raleigh News & Observer, “Crystal Mangum wants to represent herself on murder charge,” Virginia Bridges, Oct. 8, 2012

We work with clients like the woman in this post who have been accused of homicide or manslaughter. You can learn more about our Raleigh, North Carolina, practice by visiting our murder or manslaughter defense page.