Testify At Your Criminal Trial

Strategies and Missteps That Can Significantly Impact The Outcome of Your Trial

Facing a criminal trial as a defendant can feel incredibly daunting. The prosecution may have already gathered a considerable amount of evidence. Like many defendants, you may feel you can prove your innocence if you only had the chance to take the stand and be able to explain. Furthermore, your knowledge of courtroom proceedings may be limited to what occurs in television legal dramas, where it seems as though the defendant always trips himself up on the stand and ends up confessing in open court. It seems as though the defendant has no choice but to take the stand. In some situations, testifying can work against your case. This article will discuss the pros and cons of testifying at your own criminal trial. While we are happy to share our knowledge and expertise, make sure you follow the advice of your attorney as you consider your next steps. 

Should You Testify at Your Criminal Trial?

Generally speaking, you should not testify at your criminal trial. Testifying at your own criminal trial can expose you to potential complications and place you in an incredibly stressful situation. However, in some cases, you may determine that testifying at your trial works in your favor. Follow the advice of an experienced criminal defense attorney as you decide the best course to take. 

The Disadvantages of Testifying at Trial

There are several possible disadvantages to testifying at trial. While many defendants want to be sure they have the chance to tell their stories and share their version of events, taking the stand can have potential disadvantages. 

You waive your right to remain silent.

You have the right to remain silent, and you have the right not to testify against yourself in court. However, if you take the stand, you waive these rights and open yourself to the prosecution’s questions. 

You may inadvertently say more than you mean to.

Your attorney will work with you to determine how to best answer the questions and handle any issues that may come up during your trial. However, many defendants—and not just those in courtroom dramas—find that they end up saying more than they intend to when taking the stand. 

The jury may find it hard not to take your testimony into consideration when deciding your case.

The jury can take anything you’ve said on the stand into consideration when making their determinations regarding guilt or innocence. They can also use your testimony to decide what consequences you should face if found guilty. 

When to Testify in Your Criminal Trial

Most of the time, testifying in your criminal trial has more disadvantages than advantages. During a criminal trial, the burden of proof rests with the prosecution. Stepping onto the stand can sometimes provide the prosecution with more ammunition against you. However, in some cases, your attorney may advise you to take the stand. Before the trial, your attorney will prepare you for what may take place, including asking questions that could be asked during the trial. Here are some scenarios where it may be a good idea to testify:

You are the only credible witness to a specific event. 

Your lawyer may recommend that you testify if they cannot find another qualified witness that can provide the same information. 

You have a clear alibi that establishes your location at the time of the incident.

A strong alibi can help make your case and decrease concern about putting you on the stand to testify.

You need to clarify a statement you made to law enforcement officers. 

Sometimes, law enforcement officials may note that you made statements that could prove incriminating. Your lawyer may recommend that you testify to clarify that information with the jury and create a better case. 

How to Testify in Your Criminal Trial

If you do take the stand, there are several key things you must take into consideration: 

Ask for clarification if you need it. 

If you have any questions about what either attorney has asked or what they want to know, ask for clarification. Make sure you know what they’re looking for. You will discuss your testimony with your lawyer ahead of time, so you may already have a solid idea of what your attorney intends to ask. Your attorney will also advise you on what you can expect from the prosecution during your trial.

Answer only the questions asked. 

Do not extrapolate. Often, defendants who take the stand will want to fill in gaps between questions and answers with more and unnecessary information. Often, however, you will end up providing more information than you intend, and the prosecution may choose to use some of that additional information against you. Keep your answers short and simple. 

Stay calm.

Keep your cool during your testimony. The prosecution may try to get you upset or angry, especially if you find yourself on trial for a violent crime. Do not argue with the attorney, even if you feel the attorney may have gotten something crucial wrong or the attorney makes an inflammatory statement. A calm demeanor can go a long way toward establishing your overall character. 

Dress conservatively.

If you have questions, talk to your attorney about how to dress for the courtroom. Many jury members will start to form an opinion of you based on your appearance. Conservative attire can make a big difference. 

Maintain a respectful attitude. 

Stay respectful throughout the trial toward the judge and the court process. Keep your answers calm and respectful. 

An Attorney Can Guide You Through Your Criminal Trial

Let a lawyer guide you through your criminal trial. When you find yourself mixed up in a criminal trial, having a knowledgeable attorney on your side can make a big difference in the outcome of your case. An attorney can help protect your freedoms and advise you when to testify on your own behalf and when you may want to stay off the stand.

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