Do Defendants Testify at Their Own Criminal Trials?
You are probably not the only person you know who has ever been arrested. Statistically speaking, the chances are highest that the people you know who have been arrested either pleaded guilty and received plea deals, or else the court dismissed the case quickly. Most criminal cases do not go to trial, although every defendant has the right to a trial if the case gets far enough that the defendant must enter a plea. Therefore, everything you have ever seen or criminal trials probably comes from the news media or from fictional portrayals at trial. Some defendants testify at their own trials, and some do not. The decision of whether to testify at your own criminal trial is an individual one based on many factors. Here, our Miami criminal defense lawyer explains why some defendants in criminal cases choose to testify in their own defense, while others choose a defense strategy that does not include the defendant’s own testimony.
Facing Your Accusers in Court
The right to face your accuser in court is one of the fundamental rights of defendants in criminal cases. This includes the right to be informed of the charges against you well in advance of your trial and to summon witnesses to cast doubt on the accusations against you. At a criminal trial, both sides can summon witnesses, and each side’s lawyers may cross examine the other side’s witnesses.
In other words, when people choose not to testify at their own trials, it is usually because they want to avoid the risks associated with undergoing cross examination on the witness stand. Being cross examined is stressful even when you are not the one who will be convicted if the cross examination does not go well; it is absolutely terrifying if you are the defendant and not merely a witness. Prosecutors will say anything to get you to mess up. They want you to seem angry, paranoid, and untrustworthy. Your lawyer has the right to try to protect you from unfair questions during cross examination, but it is the judge who gets to decide whether to allow the prosecutor to continue with a question to which your defense lawyer has objected.
Letting the Evidence Speak for Itself
Some defendants choose not to testify even when they are so sure of their innocence that they think there is nothing the prosecutor could ask that could make the defendants reveal their innocence, and even if they think they can cope with the prosecution’s mind games. The motivation, in this case, is that the other evidence is strong enough to establish reasonable doubt about the defendant’s guilt, even without the defendant’s testimony. In other words, it may be better to show, not tell, that you are innocent. You may be able to establish this through the other evidence that you present, such as location data from your phone or eyewitness testimony indicating that you were not at the scene of the crime, or by the fact that the prosecution failed to present the drugs that they claim they found in your car.
Jurors are Human
When defendants testify at their own trials, it can make the jurors see the defendant as a human being, someone like themselves. By testifying in your own trial, you may also get to tell a version of the story that a prosecution witness told. Your testimony can help your case not only because of what you say but because you can make yourself seem more likable by telling your story in your own words.
Jurors Are Only Human
Even after a protracted jury selection process to find 12 unbiased jurors, the 12 people in the jury box are mere human beings. They are as shallow and petty as anyone who has ever clicked “like” or “dislike” on a YouTube video. Prosecutors will find a way to make you seem unlikable, and even if they don’t, maybe you remind a juror of her ex-brother-in-law, whom she can’t stand. Forensic evidence is more resistant to the whims of jurors than a defendant’s testimony.
The bottom line is that how your testimony will go over depends in part on the personalities of the prosecutors, judge, and jury at your trial. You and your criminal defense lawyer can assess the situation and determine whether testifying at your trial will help your case or expose you to unnecessary risk.
Contact Our Criminal Defense Attorneys
A South Florida criminal defense lawyer can help you decide whether to go to trial and whether to testify at your own trial. Contact Ratzan & Faccidomo in Miami, Florida for a free, confidential consultation about your case.