Should You Testify in Your Own Criminal Trial?

It is a decision that must be weighed very carefully: should you testify in your own defense? About half of all defendants decide to take the stand to proclaim their innocence. Defendants with prior felony convictions are less likely to testify, often concerned that juries will discover they have had past problems with the law. Likewise, those accused of charges related to gang activity seem to believe juries will be biased against them and are usually reluctant to take the stand. What about you? Will you be able to make the case for yourself that no one else could? 

Possible Benefits

Every defendant has the right to testify.  Some reasons it may be a good idea include:

  • The obvious plus side of testifying in your own defense is that you get to set the narrative. You can directly challenge the testimony of other witnesses, clarify misunderstandings, and demonstrate your innocence by directly confronting the charges against you.
  • If you present as a sincere and credible person, the jury will have the opportunity to see you as a human being deserving of fair consideration and empathy.
  • The jury will be instructed not to infer guilt if you choose not to testify.  Even so, the fact that you are willing to testify demonstrates your confidence in yourself, taking away juror questions about what you may be hiding by refusing to take the stand.

Potential Risks

Although it is your right to defend yourself by taking the stand, doing so is not without potential pitfalls:

  • Prosecutors will take the opportunity to aggressively question you in the hopes of unnerving you, discrediting you, and generally undermining you.
  • While you may have a clear understanding of your own perspective, you likely do not understand the legal nuances related to the case.
  • Anything you say can be used by the prosecution to weaken your case. They will set traps, hoping you open the door to further inquiries along new lines. They can also call additional rebuttal witnesses to contradict your version of events.

If You Do Testify

If testifying is definitely something you want to pursue, keep these tips in mind:

  • Understand the allegations and thoroughly prepare your testimony, with plenty of rehearsal.
  • Be calm, respectful, and attentive.
  • Particularly during cross-examination, maintain eye contact, and answer only as much as you are asked.
  • If questions are misleading or unclear, rephrase them to get the information out that you want out.
  • Maintain positive body language.

The Defense You Deserve

The experienced criminal defense attorneys at Boertje & Associates always fight for the best possible outcomes for you. To discuss your case, schedule a confidential consultation in our San Diego office today.

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