When facing a criminal trial, one critical decision defendants must make is whether to testify on their own behalf.
This decision carries significant implications as it can directly impact the outcome of their case, so it is absolutely worthwhile to spend some time considering both the advantages and disadvantages of taking the stand before committing to an approach. If you’re facing this dilemma, these are a few points worth considering.
What are the pros and cons of testifying?
By taking the witness stand, you have the opportunity to directly share your perspective, beliefs and intentions during the incident in question.
In addition, testifying in your own defense can also help:
- Humanize you to the judge or jury: Testifying can allow the court or jury to see you as a real person rather than simply “the defendant.” It provides an opportunity to display your sincerity and credibility, which can lead to sympathy and understanding.
- Rebut evidence: Testifying can be your chance to challenge or refute the prosecution’s case. It enables you to address inconsistencies in your prior statements or behavior, present alternative explanations for events or raise doubts about the credibility of other witnesses or any evidence against you.
It’s important to remember, of course, that defendants are never required to take the stand, and you always do so at your own risk. Testifying is not without its challenges, which is why the refusal to testify cannot be held against you.
When you take the stand, you subject yourself to cross-examination by the opposing counsel. This can be an intense experience, as they ultimately aim to discredit your testimony, exploit inconsistencies in your statements or highlight unfavorable aspects of your character. This can create additional risks if you are not prepared or if you struggle to remain composed under pressure.
An honest self-assessment of your ability to remain calm and articulate under the pressures of cross-examination is crucial. If you struggle with effective communication or get easily rattled, testifying might carry higher risks. Juries and judges are just people, and you can damage your case if you make yourself “unlikeable” through your demeanor.
The decision of whether to testify at your trial is complex and highly individual – but it is yours and yours alone. Experienced legal guidance can help you decide.