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Is It A Good Idea To Testify At Your Own Criminal Trial?


Defendants in criminal cases have the right to remain silent.  They also have the right to tell their side of the story.  Deciding whether to testify at your own criminal trial is a big decision, as big as the decision regarding whether to plead not guilty and go to trial or to plead guilty and seek a plea deal.  Your goal as a defendant in a criminal case is to present the events surrounding the alleged crime in a way that makes the jury unsure whether the allegations against you are true; if it is blatantly obvious that you are innocent, the state will probably drop the charges against you before your case gets to trial.  At your trial, as during questioning by police, anything you say can and will be used against you.  A West Palm Beach criminal defense lawyer can help you present the strongest possible case at your trial, with or without your sworn testimony.

What Can Go Wrong If You Testify?

Testifying in your own defense at a criminal trial is your legal right.  The court cannot pressure you not to testify or attempt to intimidate you into silence.  Your testimony can help your case in important ways.  For example, it may provide information that the jurors could not find out from the physical evidence or from the testimony of the other witnesses.  It can also drive home the point that you are a real person with your own life history and your own perspective on the events that led to your arrest.

On the other hand, if you testify, the prosecution has the right to cross examine you after you finish answering questions from your own defense lawyer.  The prosecutors will ask you challenging questions in an effort to bring out your fear and frustration.  They want the jury to see you lose your temper or contradict yourself, so they can tell the jury that this proves that you are violent or not credible.

What Can Go Wrong If You Do Not Testify?

Prosecutors cannot claim that, if you do not testify, it means that you are guilty.  If you do not testify, though, the jury’s opinion of you will be based entirely on what other people say about you, on your physical appearance and body language in the courtroom, and on any communications by you or recordings of you that your lawyer or the prosecution enters as evidence.  This can work to your advantage; as every creative writing teacher says, “show, don’t tell.”

In some cases, the decision to testify is based on whether you and your lawyer think that the jury will find you sympathetic.  This is a very subjective judgment that can only be decided on a case-by-case basis.

Contact a West Palm Beach Criminal Defense Lawyer Today

Attorney William Wallshein has more than 39 years of experience, including five years as a prosecutor in Palm Beach County.  Contact William Wallshein P.A. in West Palm Beach, Florida to discuss your case.



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