I am routinely asked the question as to whether a person needs to hire an attorney, and, while the answer is that a person does not "need" an attorney, people often learn the hardway that they should have retained a lawyer. Sadly, a man recently had his appeals dismissed by a Pittsburgh judge because the man appeared on the date and time scheduled for the hearing, but he was in the wrong courtroom. He actually appeared early for the hearing, but he appeared at the location where he filed the appeals instead of the location where the hearings were actually taking place. When the man failed to appear at the scheduled hearing, his appeals of his convictions were dismissed.
The man then appealed the dismissals to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, but the appellate court panel of judges affirmed the dismissals. The Superior Court noted that the date, time, and location of the appeal hearings were "conspicuously", meaning clearly, noted on the forms that the man received when he initially filed his appeals. The fact that the man appeared on the correct date and time for the hearings showed that the man had noticed the information on the forms and apparently had overlooked the location portion. He probably assumed that the hearings would be held where he filed the appeals, and the man's apparent assumption was wrong. The man's ignorance and confusion were not an excuse.
In Criminal Cases, Get a Lawyer
As a State College criminal defense lawyer, I am very aware that ignorance of the law is not a defense. I often watch pro se defendant, meaning people representing themselves, appear before a judge, admit guilt with the hope of obtaining leniency from the judge, only to be convicted and sentenced. Had they hired an attorney, the case could have been won. Retaining an experienced lawyer greatly increases the likelihood that a person obtains a favorable result. In some settings, ignorance is bliss, but, in the criminal context, ignorance of the law generally results in a loss.
Who Would Miss a Court Appearance?
I routinely face the situation that arose in this case, meaning a client that is not sure where and when to appear in court despite the fact that the client received court paperwork that clearly provides the necessary information. I am sure that some people question how a person cannot read the court paperwork and figure out when and where to appear. To those people, I would note that the court paperwork is often confusing. I have had many professionals, including lawyers, misread the paperwork and believe that an appearance at a hearing was not required, was at a different location, or was on a different date.
A good defense lawyer stays in contact with the client and provides reminders as to court hearings. This ensures that the clients appears where and when it is required and thereby avoids the problems that occurred in the Pittsburgh summary appeal cases.