In any criminal trial, the stakes are high – and that’s one of the reasons you have an absolute right to testify on your own behalf. However, you also have an absolute right not to take the stand, and no negative inference can be drawn if you make the decision not to testify.
Ultimately what you decide to do can have a big impact on your fate, so it is very important to carefully consider your options before committing to a strategy either way.
Are you willing to give up certain rights?
You have the right to remain silent in the face of criminal accusations, and the burden of proof for the case lies entirely with the prosecution. Once you take the stand, however, you give up that right to remain silent. Once you’re done telling your story, the prosecution gets to cross-interrogate you, and you can’t retreat behind the Fifth Amendment’s protections again when they do.
Do you feel like you need to testify?
Carefully assess the evidence the prosecution has presented against you and your defense strategy. Consider the overall weight of their evidence and the likelihood that it will convince the judge or jury of your guilt – or not. If the prosecution’s case is weak, testifying may not be necessary.
On the other hand, if you’re relying on a self-defense angle for your case, the jury may need to hear your version of events in order to understand why you took the actions you did. Testifying gives you a chance to offer an alternative explanation for events they can believe in aside from what the prosecution is saying.
Do you make a good witness?
Reflect on how you might be perceived as a witness. Testifying in court can be emotionally challenging, particularly when you are defending yourself. Consider whether you are prepared to relive the events that led to your charges, face cross-examination and capable of maintaining your composure throughout the process. Consider the potential impact your testimony may have on the judge or jury. Assess whether your story is compelling, believable and capable of creating reasonable doubt.
Ultimately, the decision to testify in your own defense should be made in close consultation with your defense attorney, considering the specific circumstances of your case and your individual strengths and weaknesses as a witness.