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Should I testify in my own defense in my criminal trial?

On Behalf of | Mar 22, 2024 | Criminal Defense

When you’re accused of criminal wrongdoing and formal charges are levied against you, there’s a good chance that prosecutors are going to approach you with a plea bargain. But if the plea deal is insufficient or you think that you can beat the prosecution’s case altogether, then you’ll need to prepare for trail. While that includes gathering physical evidence and witness testimony to support your arguments, you’ll ultimately have to decide as to whether testifying in your own defense is wise.

Many accused individuals think that if they can get on the witness stand and tell their side of the story, then a judge or jury will clearly see that they should be acquitted. But testifying in your own defense is risky business. Let’s take a closer look at why.

How testifying in your own defense is dangerous

When deciding whether to testify in your case, you must weigh the risks and the benefits. Ultimately, this is a decision that only you can make, but here are some of the risks you could face if you choose to testify:

  • Credibility issues: When you take the stand, the judge and jury are going to scrutinize your demeanor, your tone of voice, and your word selection. One seemingly minor slipup on your part or excessive nervousness could completely devastate your credibility and the reliability of your testimony. When this happens, you cause more damage to your defense than refraining from testifying would have caused. So, if you have a criminal history, have made inconsistent statements, or are simply going to struggle to keep your composure, then testifying probably isn’t in your best interests.
  • The requirement to tell the truth: Before testifying in open court, you’ll be required to take an oath whereby you swear to tell the truth. If you lie on the stand, then you’ll not only hurt your case, but you could be charged with perjury, a crime that could hit you with even more penalties. If you’re going to struggle with an oath to tell the truth, then you should avoid testifying in your case and instead allow your criminal defense attorney to build your case using other evidence and witnesses.
  • Giving the wrong impression: You have a Constitutional right against self-incrimination. However, if you invoke your Fifth Amendment right to avoid answering questions pertaining to criminal activity or your guilt, you may give the jury the perception that you can’t be trusted or that you’re avoiding the question because you’re guilty. That’s why it’s imperative that you think through what the prosecution will ask you and how you’ll answer those questions before deciding whether to testify in your case.
  • Your history will be on full display: Testifying in your own defense is especially risky because of the prosecution’s ability to cross-examine you. Here, they’ll attack your history to try to portray you as someone who lies, regularly breaks the law, and can’t be trusted. If you don’t handle pressure well or have unfavorable facts in your history, then testifying might not be your best option.

Find the best path forward with your criminal defense

There are a lot of mistakes that can be made when you’re facing criminal charges. Although that can be incredibly stressful to think about, you can mitigate the risk by engaging in thorough and thoughtful criminal defense preparation. If even that has you feeling uneasy, don’t worry. You can find assistance in building the aggressive criminal defense that you need to protect your interests as fully as possible given the facts at hand.