We receive numerous phone calls every day here at Coxwell & Associates regarding serious questions about criminal law. We know these questions do not develop out of thin air. When we hear phone calls with the same concerns from people across the state, but especially in a particular county or city, we understand that a problem exists, and it is usually a problem that always benefits the prosecution of an unknowing defendant.
People are showing up for their first court appearance in Justice Courts and Municipal Courts in Mississippi and they are being presented with a document known as a “Waiver of Attorney.”
What does it mean to sign a waiver? Well, in simple terms it means that the person who signs this waiver is giving up certain rights they are afforded by the United States and Mississippi Constitutions.
This “waiver of attorney” is given to defendants as they stand before the court. These defendants are usually there to simply plead “not guilty”, receive a trial date, and then go hire an attorney before their trial date. While we recommend hiring an attorney as soon as you possibly can after you are arrested, we do understand that sometimes people simply need more time to secure the perfect attorney for their case. When a person signs that “Waiver” in open court, the clerk places the waiver in the file and keeps it until your next court date. If you hire an attorney before that trial date and come back to court, you will not have any problem. But if you show up without an attorney and you explain that you could not find one or that you simply could not afford an attorney, the court will use that waiver against you. They will hold it up in court and say, “Since I have this waiver of attorney in the file, we will proceed with this trial against you without the assistance of counsel.”
The problem with this “waiver of attorney” form is that most people sign documents they do not understand. Without guidance from someone who is not trying to put you in jail, it can be difficult to understand the document you’re being asked to sign in front of everyone. How many people are comfortable with admitting they cannot read or cannot understand a document when everyone is looking and waiting on them? Very few.
“Should I sign this waiver they gave me in court?” is a question I hear constantly. The answer is always “no” when it comes to waiving anything in the criminal justice system. The rules are there for a reason, and the court must play by those rules unless they have a way around them, and in this situation, that way around them is with a “waiver of attorney.”
Never sign anything you don’t fully understand. If you have a document that you need help understanding, call me at Coxwell & Associates, and I will help you as much as I can. To make things easier on everyone, including yourself, just call me before you walk into any courtroom setting, and I will do everything I can to assist you with your case.
Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.