The honest answer: Maybe. In our years defending criminal cases at Holland and Usry, we’ve found few things generate more fear in an accused person than taking the stand in their own defense. We’ll address those emotions in a minute. But first, set them aside so you can focus on what guides our decision. This is not a lofty notion but three bedrock FACTS:
- To convict you, the government must prove you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
- The accused always has the right to remain silent.
- The jury cannot hold your silence against you. The judge must instruct the jury they cannot even discuss your not taking the stand in their deliberations.
Because it’s all up to the government to prove your guilt, we’re not going to do their work for them. If your testimony would remove all doubt of your guilt, you’re not testifying. But even if you’re innocent, you still might not take the stand.
Some Good Reasons to Not Testify Even If You’re Innocent:
The classic example is a DUI: if there is a video of you, the way you look on the video already establishes whether you were impaired. By the way, if you’re worried about how you did on those field sobriety tests, check out our free report on DUI cases, which has a chapter that should relieve your anxiety about that.
It hurts our strategy.
If we put up any evidence, we lose the last closing argument. That means the State gets an extra shot to talk to the jury about everything they think is wrong with our defense. The last voice in the jury’s ears will be the prosecutor who wants to condemn you. Sometimes it’s just better for them to hear what we have to say last.
Your emotions overwhelm the necessity of your testimony.
Unlike anyone else in the courtroom, you’re the only one whose life and reputation is at stake. On the stand, you might feel like the verdict is in your hands alone. This can be overwhelming, and you’re justified feeling afraid and nervous. Fear and nerves create mistakes—you need only look at the world of sports where many games are decided on missed field goals, free throws, or short putts. And this is no game.
When You Do Testify: the Antidote for Fear and Nerves.
If your testimony is necessary, we counter your fear and nerves with the best antidote: preparation. This does not mean memorizing speeches or dishonestly twisting facts hoping to fool the jury. On the stand, your best friend is honesty, even admitting things that hurt you a little bit. Remember if your testimony hurts a lot, you’re not doing it. We work with our clients to develop their testimony so you’ll feel prepared when you take the stand to defend yourself. You’ll know:
- The facts of your case so you don’t get tripped up.
- Honest, meaningful explanations for things that hurt you. Sometimes admitting dumb mistakes—like prior convictions—and taking responsibility for them helps the jury understand your innocence in this case. It also takes a lot of gas out of the prosecutor’s cross-examination.
- How to respond patiently, respectfully, and honestly even when you’re getting grilled. Our goal is to keep you calm on the stand so the jury views you as a reasonable person. You might get a little seared by a very talented prosecutor, but not burned to a crisp.
- How to use cross-examination as a way to repeat your defense. While questions are generally designed to be answered yes or no, you can explain in a way that continues to help your case: “Yes, I was there when the car got stolen, but I never touched it and the only fingerprints officers found were someone else’s.”
If you’ve been charged with a crime and want to discuss your options, including whether you’ll have to testify, do contact us by phone at 864.582.0416 or toll-free at 888.230.1841, email, or start a live chat and we’ll get in touch with you.