In any criminal case, a defendant has a 5th Amendment constitutional right to testify in his own case or refuse to testify. This is often a difficult and complex decision to make. While a criminal defense attorney will certainly discuss, evaluate, and weigh the pros and cons of this decision, the decision is solely the defendant’s and not his attorney’s.
When making this decision, it is important to weight the pros and cons of testifying on your own behalf. What is there to gain by testifying? What is there to lose by testifying? Will the jury like the defendant? How educated and articulate is the defendant? Will the defendant be rattled on cross-examination? Has the defendant already given a statement to the police? These are just some of the considerations when deciding whether to testify on your own behalf.
Perhaps the most important consideration is whether the defendant has prior criminal charges on his record. If the defendant elects to testify, past criminal charges will brought to light by a prosecuting attorney. This can have a devastating impact on a jury who may choose to convict the defendant in a close case simply because he may be perceived as a “bad person.” In most cases, the defendant’s past criminal history never comes to light unless he chooses to testify. This is based on a defendant’s right to be tried and judged based on only the current offense which he is standing trial for.
In some cases, however, there is not really a choice to testify. For example, a defendant claiming self-defense in an assault or murder case will almost always have to testify in order to establish self-defense unless there were witnesses to the incident that could establish the defendant acted in self-defense. In a case where the defendant does in fact testify, it is vital that he be extremely well prepared for not only direct examination but more importantly for the prosecutor’s cross-examination.
If you or a loved one if facing a criminal charge, call the experienced St. Louis criminal defense law firm of Henderson & Waterkotte, P.C. today for a free consultation. We can help you understand your rights while working to mitigate the damage a criminal charge can have on you.