The Man Who Represents Himself Has a Fool For a Client
I'm not a lawyer, but I'm intensely interested in the law, read law blogs, and read court decisions for fun. After a decade of that … I probably know less about the law than a 1L in the second week of September.
One thing I have learned, though, is that in addition to the regulations and laws, there are vast bodies of precedent, doctrine, and just process dealing with how one goes about interacting with the law. The more I learn the more I shake my head at the
barracks blog "lawyers" who want to make arguments based on what they consider the plain reading of some statute or another. Oh, sure, if we're just talking Platonic ideals and hot air, it's good stuff, and I like that sort of conversation myself.
…but if we're talking about actually going to court and interacting with the machinery of the all-powerful state, it's not remotely enough. Would you voluntarily show up at a fist fight after having read an e-book on wrestling, when your opponent is a professional bar bouncer?
Sadly, the folks most inclined to go down this I've-read-the-law-and-I'm-smarter-than-most-people route are the ones I have the most sympathy for: the idealists, the free-thinkers, and the iconoclasts. I say "sadly", because (a) these are people I like and respect, and (b) this is a sure fire recipe to end up in a cage.
I'm a fan of Copblock which is – in their own words – "a decentralized project supported by a diverse group of individuals united by their shared goal of police accountability."
Ademo Freeman is, I believe, one of the founders of Copblock.
Let's see what sort of trouble he got himself into:
Adam "Ademo Freeman" Mueller was charged with violating the law by not obtaining the consent of a police officer, the former principal of Manchester High School West and a school secretary when he recorded their conversations…
Mueller represented himself in his felony wiretapping trial …telling jurors that he did not believe he had done anything wrong…
The jury convicted Mueller on three counts of felony wiretapping…
Now I'm all in favor of arguing for jury nullification. This is not where I think Ademo went wrong. Let's read on.
Brandon Ross, Mueller's "pro bono" appellate attorney
Mueller … sought to have the verdict set aside or reversed, the charges dismissed with prejudice so they could not be brought back, the conviction vacated…
The judge denied his motion, saying it was not filed within the required seven days and Mueller was "an experienced pro se litigator and knows the rules."
This is the foolishness that makes me face-palm. Freeman chose to release a video, knowing it was going to put him in the grinder of the State. Awesome. He's a selfless hero. (I'm serious about that). Freeman chose to argue jury nullification, knowing that it was not his best chance of getting off, but wanting to move the Overton Window. Awesome. But then, after losing the good fight, he became – according to the State – a felon, with all the short term and long term legal and social penalties associated with that. The fight isn't over yet – every courtroom attorney I've ever read the blog of talks about preserving grounds for motions and appeals and filing them.
And this is where Freeman screwed up. He bungled a simple deadline. And by missing that deadline, he's flushed his case down the toilet. He's done.
He's trying to make a Hail Mary pass, though, by going to the State Supreme Court:
[ Freeman's attorney ] Ross Wednesday said Mueller wasn't experienced enough to seek to have included in the judge's instructions to the jury that they could acquit Mueller if they found he believed what he did was legal.
He also said he believes that if Mueller had had a lawyer representing him at trial, he would not have been convicted.
So this is the end result: Freeman represented himself, lost, squandered his chance for a motion, and is now in the ignominious position of hiring an attorney to argue that he, Freeman, should get special clemency because he's smart enough to "be an experienced pro se litigator" but dumb enough to be bad at it.
I am not a lawyer, and so I won't offer legal advice, but here's my meta-legal advice: the law is a 2,000+ year old institution encrusted with barnacles upon barnacles, and the tactics of dealing with those sharp and dangerous extrusions is the work of a guild of professionals. If you ever come into contact with the law over anything more serious than a speeding ticket or a small claims lawsuit – especially something that might result in you getting caged for multiple years – you really really don't want to screw up on something as simple as not filing you twenty-seven B stroke six with in the required seven days.
Get a lawyer.
…especially if you're one of the good guys.