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.