Do You Have to Testify in Court if You’re Charged with a Crime?

Being the Defendant in a criminal case is one of the most stressful, nerve-wracking experiences an individual will ever endure. Attending a court session and being called “The Defendant” is in and of itself a  daunting experience. Now imagine that your case cannot be resolved before trial, and you have to defend yourself before a jury of your peers. One of the most significant discussions you will have with your attorney is “Should I testify in my own behalf?”

There are both benefits and detriments to testifying, which depend in large part on your ability to properly articulate your defense, suppress your emotions and not “look guilty,” and to be able to stand up under a prosecutor’s cross-examination.

However, there are certain benefits that may come with telling your side of the story, particularly if you are able to convince the jury of your innocence. Unfortunately, anything can happen when it comes to testifying, which is why most people have a hard time deciding what to do. In this article, we discuss whether or not you should testify in court if you’re charged with a crime.

To Testify or Not to Testify

If you are the defendant, the decision to testify or remain silent is your decision and yours alone. Your lawyer may not – under any circumstances – prevent you from testifying if you decide to take the stand. And If you choose not to testify, no one can force you to become a witness against yourself. In fact, if you decide not to testify, the judge will instruct the jury that you have the constitutional right not to do so and that your decision cannot even be considered during jury deliberations.

However, if you decide to testify, you will be treated the same as any other witness. Your lawyer will question you first, and then the prosecutor will cross-examine you. If you’re thinking it will be easy, think again. Testifying in a trial where you are the accused is not like any experience you have ever had. Think about it. You’re in a strange environment, a courtroom. There are 6 or 12 jurors scrutinizing your every word and movement. There is a judge listening who will sentence you if you are found guilty. And there is an experienced prosecutor coming after you with questions to challenge you – some of which you can anticipate, and some which you never saw coming. You can see that this is not a decision to be taken lightly.

When Should You Testify?

A general rule of thumb is to only testify when it is absolutely necessary. For example, if you gave a statement to the police after arrest and the only way to contradict the police officer’s version of what you said is if you testify. Or if you are presenting a defense which requires your testimony, such as entrapment. However, if you decide to testify just to “tell your side of the story” you may want to reconsider. Your version of events can be effectively be presented by your lawyer through opening statement, cross-examination, presentation of defense witnesses and closing argument.

Here’s another factor to consider. Before you testify, the prosecution will have put on its entire case. Witnesses will have testified and been cross-examined by your lawyer, evidence will have been introduced, and the jurors will have started to form their opinions about whether you are guilty or not guilty. Many jurors may already have a reasonable doubt as to guilt, which is favorable to you.

Once you testify, everything that has already taken place in the trial goes “out the window.” The jurors will make their decision based upon whether they like you, trust you and believe your testimony. It only takes one mistake or slip up for your testimony to backfire. If the jurors don’t like, trust and believe you – they will find you guilty, no matter what they were previously thinking. But if they do like, trust and believe you – well then you made the best decision ever and they will find you not guilty!

Remember, you are generally presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. Therefore, there is no need to testify without a good reason behind it. This stems from the fact that the risk of saying something that could compromise your case is too high, especially if your contribution does not have a significant impact on the case. What’s more, the pressure of testifying in a court of law can be overwhelming, making you nervous, defensive and overly stressed out. This, in turn, increases your chances of making a blunder at the stand.

The best way to make this difficult, important decision is with a highly trained and experienced defense attorney. If you need legal counsel for your upcoming case, Barry M. Wax is here for you. Call now at (305) 373-4400 to get started.

Law Offices of Barry M. Wax