The term “pro per” is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase “in propria persona,” meaning “in their own person,” and it refers to a situation where a litigant represents themselves, without a lawyer. Pro per is synonymous with the more commonly used term pro se.
The Sixth Amendment guarantees criminal defendants the right to representation by counsel, and although the Sixth Amendment does not explicitly refer to self-representation, that right is necessarily implied. Thus, a defendant may elect to waive the right to counsel and represent themselves.
There are several instances where pro per representation is commonly prohibited. Generally, a corporation may not appear in court in pro per, pro se litigants cannot bring a class action suit, and a nonlawyer who is the executor or personal representative of an estate may not appear in pro per.
The right to self-representation may also be denied if:
The defendant is unable to abide by rules of procedure and courtroom protocol.
The defendant is unable to communicate effectively, for example, where the defendant has a severe speech impediment.
The defendant is not mentally competent.
[Last updated in July of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]