Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Legal experts see flaws in Bayshore rape suspect's plan to represent himself

TAMPA — He who represents himself has an idiot for a lawyer and a fool for a client. That's an adage attorneys like to use about those who opt for a defense that is pro se, a Latin term for "on one's own behalf."

Next week in Hillsborough Circuit Court, 31-year-old Luis Munuzuri-Harris will represent himself in trial, against charges that he posed as an undercover narcotics officer to pull over a woman, rob and rape her along Bayshore Boulevard. He has no law degree and could get life in prison if convicted.

Bad idea, legal experts say of his defending himself.

Charles Rose, a professor at Stetson University College of Law, puts it this way: "It's like trying to dance with somebody who doesn't know how to dance, or trying to play a game with someone who doesn't know the rules."

Trials are governed by rules of evidence. They apply to everyone equally, regardless of whether one is a lawyer.

Last year, the American Bar Association surveyed about 1,000 state trial judges about self-representation in civil matters. Most said people made procedural errors and failed to present necessary evidence, properly object, effectively examine witnesses and craft good arguments. They said people hurt their defenses when they go pro se.

The same can apply to criminal court cases, said Tampa lawyer Frances Perrone. A defendant may ask the wrong questions or blurt out something that could prejudice the jury.

When it comes time for cross-examination of the victim, prosecutors will make sure Harris stays within the limits of the rules of evidence. He won't get free rein to ask anything he wants, Perrone said.

Historically, in Tampa sex court, rape suspects acting pro se have been allowed to question victims.

But Rose thinks the state should be able to ask the judge to replace Harris with a public defender for that portion of the trial.

Assistant Public Defender Maria Pavlidis, who had started Harris' defense, will be on standby.

Defendants have a right to act as their own lawyers. But Rose said Harris will not win an appeal if he tries to argue that he was his own ineffective counsel, because he has properly been questioned and knows what he's getting himself into.

In 2004, a Pinellas man also facing a hefty sentence insisted on representing himself in a murder trial. His standby lawyer thought Emory Carter had a decidedly defendable case.

But Carter rambled during closing statements, missed key points and cursed the judge.

He will spend the rest of his life in prison.

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3354.

Legal experts see flaws in Bayshore rape suspect's plan to represent himself 01/05/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 5, 2011 9:47pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Tampa Bay small businesses give Tampa B+ for regulatory climate


    In a recent survey about small business sentiments toward state and local government policies that affect them, Tampa Bay ranked at No. 25 out of 80 — a B+ overall.

    Tampa Bay ranked No. 25 out of 80 in a recent survey about how small business owners feel about state and local government policies that affect them. | [Times file photo]
  2. Dirk Koetter to Bucs: Take your complaints to someone who can help


    TAMPA — It was just another day of aching bellies at One Save Face.

    Dirk Koetter: “All of our issues are self-inflicted right now.”
  3. Seminole Heights murders: fear and warnings, but no answers


    TAMPA — Interim Tampa police Chief Brian Dugan elicited loud gasps from the crowd of about 400 who showed up at Edison Elementary School on Monday night to learn more about the string of unsolved killings that have left the southeast Seminole Heights neighborhood gripped by fear.

    Kimberly Overman, left, comforts Angelique Dupree, center, as she spoke about the death of her nephew Benjamin Mitchell, 22, last week in Seminole Heights. The Tampa Police Department held a town hall meeting Monday night where concerned residents hoped to learn more about the investigation into the three shooting deaths over 11 days in southeast Seminole Heights. But police could give the crowd at Edison Elementary School few answers. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
  4. Juvenile justice reform seen as help for teen car theft problem


    ST. PETERSBURG — One of Tampa Bay's largest religious organizations has decided to make reforming the juvenile justice system one of its top priorities for next year.

    One of Tampa Bay's largest religious organizations, Faith & Action for Strength Together (FAST), voted Monday night to make reforming the juvenile justice system one of its top priorities for next year. FAST believes civil citations could help Pinellas County?€™s teen car theft epidemic by keeping children out of the juvenile justice system for minor offenses. [ZACHARY T. SAMPSON  |  Times]
  5. U.S. general lays out Niger attack details; questions remain (w/video)


    WASHINGTON — The U.S. Special Forces unit ambushed by Islamic militants in Niger didn't call for help until an hour into their first contact with the enemy, the top U.S. general said Monday, as he tried to clear up some of the murky details of the assault that killed four American troops and has triggered a nasty …

    Gen. Joseph Dunford said much is still unclear about the ambush.