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A Guide to Representing Yourself in Court

1. The following information on procedures is not intended to be a manual or comprehensive instruction guide. It is intended to be a short and simple informational statement about basic requirements and procedures.

2. You are strongly encouraged to consult a lawyer. However, you are not required to do so; you may represent yourself if you wish. Whether you retain an attorney or not is a decision only you can make. Neither the judge nor the clerk of court can or will give you legal advice.

3. Court cases are serious matters that are decided in a formal setting. You should dress appropriately. You should also be on time. Food or drink is not allowed in the courtroom. Children should not be brought into a courtroom unless they are old enough to sit quietly and not disrupt the proceedings. Cell phones and pagers are not allowed to be used in courtrooms.

4. Please be patient. There may be a delay before your case is called, and there are a variety of reasons why delays happen. It is often necessary to schedule several hearings for the same time, to make the most efficient use of court time (and taxpayer money). Sometimes a hearing scheduled earlier in the day takes longer than expected. Sometimes the court must deal with urgent matters which take precedence over previously scheduled hearings.

QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF

Do I know all my options, and can I make an informed choice about which option to choose?

Am I willing to learn and understand the applicable law and rules of court to represent myself?

Am I willing to commit the time to properly Can I follow written instructions and work independently in preparing my case?

If you answered “yes” to all these questions, you should be able to adequately represent yourself in court. However, these are not all the considerations to take into account, or to suggest that your case can be handled with ease. It is still recommended that you consult with an attorney.

AVAILABLE RESOURCES

Forms are only available at the office of the Clerk of Court in Protection Order and Small Claims cases. These may help you understand your options. Only in limited situations can court staff help you complete the forms.

A county law library may be available at the courthouse for your use in researching case law, statutes, rules, and legal procedures. Most libraries are limited in what books are available.

Other resources may be available online at the Unified Judicial System Home Page or the South Dakota Law HELP website.

One of your rights is to consult with a lawyer. If this is a Criminal Case and you can’t afford an attorney, you can ask the judge for a court-appointed lawyer. You will have to fill out a financial form to make sure you qualify. You will be required to reimburse the county for the costs of a court-appointed attorney.

HOW YOU CAN BEST HELP YOURSELF

There are many things you can do to prepare for a hearing. These are some of the ways:

1. Read about the areas of law which apply to your facts.

2. Consider ways to solve your problem other than litigation. Mediation may be a better alternative than litigation.

3. If you have a court appearance coming up, try to observe other proceedings that might be similar to yours, or in the same courtroom that yours is assigned. Things to observe: where people sit or stand, how evidence is presented, how much time is allowed each side, and what type of argument is permitted. Schedules of court cases are available from the Clerk of Court.

4. Mark all deadlines on your calendar. Make sure you file or serve all papers on time, and that you show up when you are supposed to.

5. Be prepared with enough copies of your pleadings and evidence to give a complete set to the other side and to the court. Make sure your witnesses are ready to testify.

6. Act professionally. Court is not the place to make personal attacks against the other party. State your position clearly and concisely. Show respect for the court and the other people.



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