Should Criminal Defendants Testify in Their Own Defense?
The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution grants you a privilege against self-incrimination. This means the prosecutor cannot force you to testify at your criminal trial, but you always retain the right to testify if you want.
Should you? Whether to testify or not is a complicated question without an easy answer. Typically, you will need to carefully review whether you have evidence that is absolutely necessary for the jury to hear. You will also need to analyze how good of a witness you are.
Can Other Witnesses Introduce Key Evidence?
Imagine that you have been picked up for getting in a fight inside someone’s apartment. Only two people were there—you and the other person. At trial, the person you punched gets on the stand and claims that you started the violence by punching them in the face for no reason. You know this is a flat-out lie. In truth, the other person started the fight—by punching you in the face. Your lawyer, who knows the witness is lying, tries to punch holes in their story, but the witness sticks to it.
Should you testify? Possibly. If you don’t, then the jury will only hear one side of the story, which makes you look like the aggressor. In this situation, only you can get important information in front of the jury, so testifying makes sense.
However, imagine that another witness was in the apartment with you. This person saw that you did not start the fight. In this situation, this witness can testify in court that you were the victim and that you took a swing only in self-defense. In this situation, your testimony is far less important.
Are You a Good Witness?
Another consideration is how credible you appear to the jury. You might seriously hurt your case if you are not a good witness. Consider the following:
- Are you quick to anger? If you are, then jurors might assume you are guilty simply based on your behavior on the witness stand.
- Do you speak confidently? If you’re someone who stammers or blushes easily, you might appear guilty.
- Can you stick to a script? Your lawyer won’t tell you what to say, but you can’t be someone who volunteers a lot of information. If you do, you could dig a deeper hole for yourself.
While preparing for trial, your defense lawyer might simulate a cross-examination to see how well you stand up to constant pressure. This simulation can give you some idea whether you should testify and, if you do, what you need to work on to appear to be a credible witness.
Only You Can Decide Whether to Testify
Your lawyer can give you advice about whether to testify, but the choice is entirely yours. Listen to what your lawyer has to say and then consider whether you are truly prepared for testifying in court. If you want to testify but are nervous, you can do more practice sessions.
Speak with a Columbia, South Carolina Criminal Defense Lawyer
A criminal conviction has repercussions that can last a lifetime. If you have been charged with a crime, you will need an aggressive criminal defense lawyer in your corner. Contact William A. Hodge, Attorney at Law, for a free consultation at 803-457-2216 or fill out our contact form.