Should I Testify in My Own Defense?

The decision as to whether a defendant should take the stand in their own defense belongs solely to the defendant, although the attorney will advise them. In general, most lawyers like to follow the “presumption of innocence” doctrine and decline to put their client on the stand. Most criminal defense lawyers avoid putting their client on the stand due to the prosecution’s intense cross-examination and the risk of creating a negative impression with the jury and/or saying something that might incriminate them.

A key danger of a defendant testifying during criminal proceedings is that once they testify, they have opened the door to cross examination by the prosecution. The judge may order them to respond to questions if they refuse to provide answers after taking the stand. For the defendant(s), criminal trials can be a very tense time as they have everything at stake on the verdict.

This can lead to high-stress levels, and some people do not operate well under stress as they become nervous, irritated, or agitated. The defendant’s demeanor is another factor as some people come across as amiable and credible, while others appear deceptive and calculating. Is not taking the stand in your own defense really the best strategy? In the section below, we will explore this question in further detail.

Consideration of the Defendant’s Performance on the Witness Stand

The decision on whether the defendant will testify depends on how well they are likely to perform on the witness stand. A seasoned defense attorney will make this consideration and judgment in the initial stages.

It may be a good idea to put the defendant on the witness stand to testify on their own defense. However, if the defendant has a prior criminal record or their demeanor is such that it will impact the jury negatively, it is probably better not to have them testify on the stand.

Taking a stand is critically important if there is more to add, such as alibi, mistake, or self-defense. But there are various risks associated with testifying, which makes every qualified lawyer think long and hard about making this recommendation. Regardless of the prosecution’s evidence, if the defendant takes the stand, that is what the verdict will eventually depend on.

According to many attorneys, when a defendant can testify, they should. In those rare circumstances where the defendant is eloquent, has no horrifying criminal record, and has a good tale to tell, their testimony can flip an otherwise weak case.

Preparation for Testifying in Court

A defense attorney must prepare their client for taking the stand. Do sit up straight when you take the stand. As you are sworn in, raise your right hand and confidently and clearly say “I do” when asked whether you swear to tell the truth. It is important to maintain good posture to convey attentiveness and confidence, instead of a forbidding and uncaring demeanor. Further, make eye contact with every person you speak to, such as the judge, attorneys, and court clerk, as this conveys confidence.

You should look at the jury when answering questions and not the lawyer. As the attorney is asking you the questions, this may seem unnatural. However, the jury is your audience and will ultimately decide your fate. Therefore, make eye contact with the jury members as you respond to questions. Be courteous, attentive, and polite, and smile when appropriate. Irrespective of how difficult it may be, regardless of how off base you think the opposing attorney is, remain calm and composed.

Make sure to respond to the questions clearly, calmly, and slowly. Do not offer more information than answering the question asked. It is important not to get angry or upset. Focus on answering the questions and not being concerned about anything that the opposing counsel does or says to upset or distract you.

Be Truthful and Honest

Being honest is the most vital element of testifying in court. As the saying goes, if you tell the truth, you only have one story to remember. If the jury feels that you are deceitful and less than honest, they will not believe a word you have to say. Lying about one detail could cause a jury to dismiss your entire testimony.

It is understandable to feel uncomfortable on the witness stand, but you should never feel like you are alone. Your lawyer is your supporter and ally. They will help jog your memory when you get confused and try to guide you back if you lose track. Remember, you are the most suitable person to assert the real facts of your case.

Trial Experience of Your Lawyer Matters

With so much at stake and with a defendant facing potential jail time, being represented by an attorney with extensive trial experience is an absolute must. At the Zach Peagler Law Firm, our seasoned criminal defense attorney will fight your case, harnessing decades of criminal case experience. We offer a robust defense against misdemeanor and felony charges in federal and state courts, including serious allegations such as murder, aggravated DUI, and white-collar crimes.

We will use our vast experience to your benefit and seek to have your charges dismissed, dropped, or reduced. For a free initial case review, messages online or call us at (205) 871-9990 today.


Role Of Expert Witnesses In A Sex Crime Case In Alabama

Interviewer: What experts are utilized for, I guess, the average sex crime case?

Zach Peagler: Yeah. You want to have the DNA independently evaluated and have a DNA expert in cases that involve DNA. Then, also their psychologists or psychiatrists are often used as experts. Many cases that involve children, the state has an expert by way of the social worker or psychologist that often interview the children and gets statements from the children

It Is Critical For a Defendant to Have an Independent Psychological Expert

It’s critical for a defendant who claims to be innocent to have an independent, psychological expert, if they can’t get access to the child, which they oftentimes can’t, they can at least evaluate the techniques used by the state to interview the child. Children are particularly vulnerable to suggestion and those type of things that unfortunately, can result in wrongful accusations.

Children Recanting Allegations as They Grow Older is a Common Occurrence

We see cases from time to time where children, as they grow older, come back and recant their story. It can result in what is often viewed as the worst case scenario of an innocent person going to jail.

A Lot of Times Children May Get Confused Regarding Instances of Abuse

Interviewer: Why do they recant their story? Is it specifically because they were put into that situation or they were just confused at the time?

Zach Peagler: Yeah. There’s a lot of times children can be confused or unfortunately, in an instance where parents are getting divorced or fighting, or their marriage has ended in divorce, there can be suggestion by one party or the other that leads children into believing that certain things happened that may not have happened.

It is Critical to Review Every Case For Validity of Allegations

I’m not throwing a blanket over these cases at all. I don’t want to say that. It’s certainly not something that happens in the majority of cases by any means, but it’s the fact that that possibility exists and that those cases do happen, that makes it so critical that every case is thoroughly evaluated to make sure, as best as you can, that those type of things aren’t happening in your particular case.

It is Advisable for an Individual Accused of a Sex Crime to Seek the Services of a Qualified Attorney

Interviewer: What advice would you give to someone who is facing a situation like this? We’re coming to the conclusion of our interview here. What advice would you give? What sort of tips would you give to someone who may be facing a sex charge? For a charge of a sex crime?

Zach Peagler: This is a blanket statement for any criminal investigation or charge is this, seek the advice of an attorney immediately. Don’t wait. Don’t hope things get better. Don’t hope things go away. Go talk to an attorney. There’s hardly a more serious accusation that can be made against an individual and if you don’t understand the legal system and the processes involved, you’re really setting yourself up for a horrible nightmare.

A Defendant Needs to Understand Which Are the Best Possible Avenues For a Viable Defense

I’m not saying an attorney can make it go away or anything, but you need to understand what are the best avenues for you to approach your case, to the extent practicable if you’re innocent of the charges to cooperate in every way you can. Again, cooperation can turn into … It can turn a bad situation worse if you’re not prepared for what you’re facing.

Is Probation After Conviction Or Is It An Alternative Sentencing?

Technically, under the legal definition of probation, it would only be after a conviction or if they had pled guilty to the charge that they would be put on probation. Probation, by definition, is the suspension of a term of incarceration. So a judge will sentence someone to term in a municipal or county or jail or in the department of corrections in a prison and then suspend that sentence and place them on probation for a certain period of time. That’s the definition of probation. The judge only has the power to put someone on probation if they’ve in fact been convicted or pled guilty to a crime.

How Often In Criminal Cases is Probation Ordered By the Court?

It’s becoming more and more frequent. Every day, every month, every year, a lot of that has to do with overcrowding of jails and prisons. It’s a view as society progresses that many crimes don’t have to carry terms of imprisonment to successfully carry out a punishment or rehabilitation.

What Are Examples of Common Offenses that Carry Probation?

Any felony offense that someone pleads guilty to or is convicted of is going to carry a term of probation in most instances. In Alabama, class C felonies have a range of punishment of a year and a day to 10 years in prison. Most judges, if it’s a first time offense, they sentence someone to a year and a day in the state prison but suspend that sentence and place them on probation for 2 years. If at any time during that 2 years’ probation period that person gets in trouble with their probation officer for not reporting or failing to pay supervision fees or picking up a new charge, the original judge has the jurisdiction to revoke their probation and sentence them to that year and a day original sentence.

Many cases in Alabama are starting to have split sentence particularly for repeat offenders. So the judge may sentence someone to 10-years sentence and split it with one year serve in the state penitentiary and then when they come out, the judge would put them on a period of supervised probation as well, somewhere between 3 and 5 years typically. Then that same scenario exists where they’ve got to report, they’ve got to pay their supervision fees, they’ve got to stay out of trouble or that judge can go back, revoke their probation and sentence them to the remainder of that 10-year sentence.

Are There Different Levels of Probation? What Are They?

In Alabama, there’s supervised and unsupervised probation; those are the two categories. They obviously speak for themselves. If you’re on supervised probation, you’re going to be assigned to a probation officer and you’re going to have to report every month to him or her. They’ll check to make sure you haven’t gotten any more trouble, they’ll make sure that you’re paying your fines and court costs and supervision fees, they may drug test you, they may require you to get a job and they’re responsible to reporting to the court that you’re doing what you’re supposed to do. If you’re in a scenario where you’re placed on unsupervised probation, you would not have any sort of reporting officer. Your only real requirement would be to pay the fines and court costs in your case and stay out of trouble.

What Are the Cases that Most Typically Receive Probation?

Most often, the non-violent category is more likely to receive probation. So it means theft, burglary and drug offenses are three pretty broad categories of crimes that don’t typically receive prison sentence if it’s for a first time offender. If you’ve had more than one offense more than one time in front of the court, there’s maybe a likelihood of doing same jail time but really in Alabama, other than violent crimes, most first time offenses are going to have a good shot at getting probation.

For more information on Probation In Alabama, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you’re seeking by calling (205) 871-9990 today.

Is The Probation Officer Going To Be On My Side Or Is He Trying To See Me Fail?

You would hope that that person is on your side and the majority of them are but it’s a case-by-cases basis to know whether each individual officer has your best interest at heart. That’s why it’s so important to be as nice and polite and professional with them as you can so that you try to make them understand that you’re very serious about fulfilling your obligations under probation so that there’s no problem. If you set that tone from the beginning, you’re more likely to get a positive response from the probation officer. If you’re late for your first appointment or you miss an appointment or you show up inappropriately dressed or any of those type of things, they’re going to be more likely to put you on their radar screen that might get you in trouble. That’s my opinion. The other thing that the probationers have to remember is most of these probation officers are overworked and underpaid.

The state budget is not good for anything in a legal system and they’ve probably got fewer probation officers than they have 5 years ago and more clients that they have to service. People going in there with an expectation that this probation officer’s going to be extremely friendly and really get to know them and that type of thing, those days are over. That’s going to be much more of a business oriented transactional relationship and so, you’re probably better served and treated just like that, showing up on time, say yes sir, no sir, yes ma’am, no ma’am, do what they ask you do but don’t expect them to be overly friendly to you. Sometimes I have clients that have that expectation. They’ll call me and think that this probation officer is out to get them for one reason or another but in reality; it’s just that they’re just doing their job and they have too many clients to service.

Can an Attorney Petition the Court to End Probation Early?

Yes, the attorney can. A lot of times, judges will leave that open or make a statement about that during a sentencing hearing, that even though you’ve been placed on 3-years supervised probation, if you make good progress and pay off the court’s ordered fines and court costs that you can come back and ask the court that either terminate your probation or switch it to an unsupervised status. A lot of times probably the biggest reason that’s someone’s on supervised probation and the court wants to keep in contact with them is because they may owe restitutions of the victims in the case. They may owe fines and they may owe court costs and the court wants to keep them in close contact if they owe money for those reasons. Often times, the court will say, “You’re going to be on supervised probation until you can pay off these court costs and fines and restitution and then you can come back and ask me to be switched to unsupervised status or have your probation terminated”.

If you do those things, it sends a signal to the court that you’re serious about taking care of your business and you probably have a good chance of getting your probation terminated or switched to unsupervised. Another example would be if the court ordered you to do some kind of drug or alcohol treatment as a condition of your probation or to complete anger management classes or a defensive driving school or anything that has to do with the nature of what you’ve been charged with. You can go do those things and then come back to the court, you can petition to have your probation terminated or switched to unsupervised because you’ve completed what they’ve asked you to do.

What Are the Common Ways that People Unwittingly Violate Probation?

It would be just inadvertently not paying court costs or fines or restitution or missing an appointment with your probation officer. I don’t see how you could really inadvertently be charged with a new crime although that is possible but by and large, those are the three biggest ways that we see when we see a probation violation. You haven’t reported your probation officer; you have failed the drug test or otherwise, become non-compliant with them in that way didn’t show up for a drug test if you were ordered to take a drug test. It’s just something to do with not reporting to your probation officer, the drug test or monthly meeting, not paying a court ordered fines, court costs, restitution or supervision fees. The third way and the most devastating way is that pick up a new criminal charge. Those are by far the three most popular ways of somebody violating their probation.

For more information on Cooperation Of Probation Officers, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you’re seeking by calling (205) 871-9990 today.