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Should a Defendant Testify at Trial?

Published: Jan 22, 2022 in Criminal Defense

When your case goes to trial, you may think you’ll be expected to testify before the court. However, this is rarely the case. Taking the stand in your defense can often do more harm than good, but it may be the best available option depending on your circumstances.

Is Testifying a Bad Idea?

Choosing to testify is entirely up to you. The judge or jury shouldn’t hold the fact you’re not testifying against you. In fact, criminal defense attorneys usually don’t want their clients giving testimony for many reasons.

You Could Hurt Your Case

Constitutional protections prevent you from being forced to testify. Although you may want to race to the stand to defend yourself, you might do more harm than good. You must remember that you are already deemed innocent until the prosecution proves your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If the prosecution cannot do this, don’t risk going to the stand and doing their job for them.

Signs of Fear Could Discredit Your Testimony

Many of us fear public speaking. Imagine yourself talking in a public space with your future on the line, potentially saying the most important words you’ve ever spoken. In the room are jury members, alternates, the judge, court personnel, attorneys and people in the gallery. How well-equipped are you to handle that?

It would be hard not to be defensive, nervous, stumble, and make mistakes. If this happens, the jury may not believe what you say.

You May Not Be Prepared for the Cross-Examination

We would ask deliberate questions to help you tell your story during our examination. But the prosecution cross-examines you with questions intended to make you look guilty and untruthful. If you say something false, even by mistake, the prosecution may introduce documents and testimony to show what you’ve said isn’t true.

The prosecution may use members of law enforcement and experts who are experienced and trained in testifying in court. We would prepare you as best as we can, but those trying to convict you may come across as more credible.

Deciding not to testify is usually about avoiding risk. You want to eliminate the chances of making mistakes and not coming across as credible, especially given the burdens on the prosecution to prove their case.

When Testifying May Be a Good Idea

Each trial is unique. The general rule is that you shouldn’t testify. However, here are some situations when testifying may be a good idea.

The Prosecution Appears to Have a Winning Case

In this scenario, the trial is not going well, and the jury appears to be attentive and interested in the prosecution’s case, but their body language makes it look like they’re not accepting the attempts to weaken its case. It’s to your advantage the prosecution has the burden of proof, but it looks like that burden’s been met. Therefore, your advantage is lost. Your last resort to save your case may be your own testimony.

You May Be One of the Only Credible Witnesses

The alleged crime may involve something that happened that only you and the alleged victim witnessed. This could be an assault, sexual assault, or robbery case. If it’s your word against the other person’s, the trial may turn in your favor if you testify effectively. There may be several prosecution witnesses who aren’t credible, and you can clearly and convincingly show why.

You’re Well Prepared to Testify

We will conduct mock trials to prepare you for what you’ll face, but that’s only part of the issue. The prosecution will fiercely question you during the cross-examination to catch you making contradictions in your testimony. If you are prepared to control your emotions, carry yourself with a calm demeanor, and communicate clearly and credibly, you may be ready to testify.

You Have a Strong Alibi

You didn’t commit the crime, and you might have strong evidence that proves you were someplace else when it happened. The alleged victim may have mistaken your identity, or they’re intentionally making up the story to punish you for some reason.

You Need to Explain Prior Statements Made to the Police or Others

If you said things that a jury may see as incriminating, you might need to clarify what you said and why. You’re setting the record straight because the other person didn’t accurately recall what you said, or you said things you didn’t mean.

Call a Houston Criminal Defense Lawyer Today

Most criminal charges are dismissed or resolved through a plea bargain agreement, so few go to trial. If you need to go to trial in your case, you’ll need an experienced defense attorney you can trust. Call The Law Offices of Ned Barnett at 713-222-6767 today. We’ll review your case, discuss your options, and inform you of what you should do next.