Rick Perry signed HB 1178 into law. HB1178 requires pro se defendants to sign waivers before talking to the district attorney. A similar bill was vetoed 2 years ago.
When I was a DA in East Texas the judge required a pro se waiver. Most defendants signed it and pled guilty. Before I got my chance at plea bargaining with any pro se defendant they at least knew what their rights were and signed them away.
If the end result is the same, what is the difference? Why require a waiver?
Proceeding pro se is a horrible decision. The lack of bargaining power, education, and experience create a significant disadvantage for pro se defendants. HB 1178 prevents judges or prosecutors from pressuring a defendant to proceed pro se.
Many people come to court without any clue as to how the criminal justice system works. Repeat offenders have the benefit of experience. The naive defendant, the innocent defendant, they are the ones who need HB1178.
A naive defendant is one who answers all of the police officer’s questions. Naive defendants believe that the police are trying to help, and that if they are guilty they should just plead guilty and take the plea bargain the DA is offering.
Naive defendants do not understand that neither the police or the prosecutor is watching out for their rights or their best interest. They believe in the inherent justness of the law and benevolence of authority.
Innocent defendants also need protection. They often believe that if they can just tell their story that the case will be dismissed. What they lack is knowledge of the law and knowledge of the criminal process.
As a prosecutor, I remember many defendants telling me they did not do it. I would answer “I was not there. I only know what is in this police report. It says you are guilty. If you want to hire an attorney we can argue over the facts at trial.” Faced with that most defendants pled guilty. A defense lawyer can sell a defense in a way pro se defendants can not.
Could an attorney “beat” all these cases? No, but if HB1178 keeps innocent defendants from pleading guilty or naive defendants from taking awful plea offers then it is worth it.
A pro se defense is most often no defense at all. HB 1178 is a great development.