Man Defends Self Against Robbery Charges, Sentenced to Nearly Four Decades

May 19th, 2012 by admin

The U.S. Constitution says you have a right to effective counsel when you are accused of a criminal offense. This doesn’t mean you have to utilize this right, though most prefer to have their case handled by someone educated in the legal system. Just this past week, a Philadelphia man was sentenced to 37 years in federal prison after essentially representing himself.

Twenty-five year old John Gassew was convicted of two separate robberies, one in December 2007 and one in October 2009, according to the Daily News. In addition to those two convictions, he was cleared on an additional robbery and gun charge.

Though Gassew had an attorney, he chose to represent himself at trial. One defense attorney remarked that Gassew handled himself with “poise” and “maturity” throughout the trial.

Whether or not the outcome would have been different with a criminal defense attorney handling the case, we’ll never know, though it is possible.

In one of therobberies, Gassew robbed a convenience store and hit the store clerk on the head with a gun. He fled in a stolen truck with over $6,000 in cash and cigarettes. After crashing into a tree, the police apprehended him. During the apprehension, Gassew was shot in the arm.

The reason we are afforded the right to an attorney is because there will be an attorney representing the state, as the prosecutor. The Constitutional due process protections are there to ensure you are treated fairly within the court system. By allowing you to have an attorney, you are on a more equal playing field with the knowledge and expertise of the prosecutor.

A robbery charge is a serious thing. This wasn’t just another theft crime. Robbery, by its very definition, is a violent offense, hence the lengthy sentence. It isn’t clear what specific charge Gassew faced, but he was likely charged with a Felony 2 or Felony 1 robbery.

Felony 1 robbery requires that the victim suffers serious bodily harm or fear of serious bodily harm. If Gassew possessed a gun and hit him over the head with it, the clerk likely feared serious bodily harm. A felony 1 conviction carries up to 20 years in prison.

Although one defense lawyer remarked on Gassew’s poise in the courtroom, it isn’t clear how using a defense attorney may have improved his chances at a positive result. There are incidents of defendants successfully representing themselves, though few opt to do so.

If you are accused of a serious crime like robbery, contact our offices today to see how we might be able to help. Having represented numerous clients in the local court system, we know what you are up against and want to assist you.