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Should a Criminal Defendant Testify?

Criminal Defense St. Petersburg Florida

The Fifth Amendment gives you an absolute right not to testify at your criminal trial and the jury can’t use your decision not to testify against you. But in some situations, might it be a good idea to testify anyway? Before you can answer that question, you need to analyze the evidence in your case and with your experienced defense lawyer. Many criminal defendants overestimate their ability to “talk their way” out of a conviction and you don’t want to hurt your case by mistakenly taking the stand.

The Defendant Has the Sole Decision

Although you should definitely talk about testifying with your lawyer, criminal defendants must realize that the decision is theirs to make—not their lawyer’s. A lawyer can’t force you to testify and a lawyer can’t keep you off the stand. Whatever your decision, the judge will want to know that you have made the choice voluntarily so give it considerable thought.

Is Your Testimony Necessary?

One benefit of testifying is that you can get your story in front of the jury. Depending on the circumstances, you might be the only one who can give your side of what happened. Consider the following situation:

You’ve been accused of punching someone in a dark alleyway, but you claim the other person came at you first and you swung solely in self-defense. The only people in the alley were you and the person you punched. In this case, it might be best to testify because the jury won’t hear that the other guy swung at you first. Without that information, they will assume that you were the aggressor and you might be convicted.

In some situations, however, you might not need to testify because other witnesses saw what happened. You can call them to testify on your behalf and thus avoid having to get on the stand yourself.

How Well Can You Stand up to Cross-Examination?

Prosecutors tend to be aggressive questioners and they’re rarely more aggressive than when they’re cross-examining a defendant. If you want to walk away with a not guilty verdict, then you absolutely must withstand this barrage and keep a cool head at the same time. Ideally, you’ll also be someone who can speak clearly. If you explode in anger or become annoyed, then you’ll appear less credible.

Most people have no idea whether they make good witnesses until they get on the stand, so a mock cross-examination is helpful. Your lawyer can pretend to be the prosecutor and hammer you with questions. If you aren’t a good witness, you should know that before going to court. And if you still want to testify, your lawyer can give you tips for becoming a more effective witness.

Call a St. Petersburg Criminal Defense Attorney Today

Whether you choose to testify or not, you’ll need a seasoned criminal defense attorney who can prepare you for your big day in court. At Khonsari Law Group, we advise criminal defendants on how to be a compelling witness. Call us today at (727) 269-5300 or complete an online contact form. Consultations are free.

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