When my husband I decided to start a business, we didn't think about the legal aspects of doing so. We didn't realize that purchasing business insurance, getting building permits and making investments all required some type of legal advice. But after speaking to a close friend, who also happens to own a small business, we contacted a business attorney. Now, we have the legal smarts to make the best decisions for our business, as well as the legal representation in case something happens to our company. I hope that you find my blog helpful and informative for your own business. It's a great resource for finding the legal advice, resources and guidance you need to get your company up and running.
If you've been charged with a crime, you have the right to take the stand during your trial and testify in your own defense. You also have the right not to take the stand, and to allow the evidence, witnesses, and arguments that your defense attorney introduces speak for you. Your defense attorney can advise you one way or the other, but ultimately, the choice as to whether or not to take the stand is yours. Take a look at some things to consider when you're making this important decision.
You Have To Tell The Truth
It seems like stating the obvious to say that you have to tell the truth when you're on the stand, and if you're innocent of the crime you were charged with, telling the truth may not seem like a difficult task. But the fact is, it's not uncommon for even an innocent defendant to have something to hide.
For example, if the prosecutor asks if you've ever taken drugs, you may be inclined to say no (even if you have taken drugs in the past) because admitting to drug use in the past could be personally or professionally embarrassing. You might think that because it happened a long time ago, no one will know the difference, so it can't hurt you.
However, if the prosecutor can find even one witness to testify that you have actually used drugs before, your credibility with the jury will be shot – even if the fact of past drug use by itself has no bearing on whether or not you've committed a crime. Once it's established that you've lied to the jury, they have no reason to believe anything else that you say.
What's more, if you lie on the stand, you may even have a new charge to worry about: perjury. Under federal law, you could be fined or imprisoned for up to five years if you're found to have committed perjury. Most states have similar laws.
You Could Open The Door to More Damaging Evidence
Getting caught in a lie isn't the only potential trap waiting for you on the witness stand. There's also the possibility that your testimony could be used to get damaging information allowed into the record that wouldn't have been allowed in had you not testified.
If you have a past criminal record, for example, the chances are good that the prosecutor will not initially be allowed to bring it up at trial. This is because it's considered prejudicial – juries are more likely to convict someone that they already think is a criminal. However, if you take the stand, the judge may allow the prosecutor to ask you whether or not you've ever been convicted of a crime. They may not be allowed to ask for details of the crime, but the information will be out there. And if you try to lie, or if you bring up details of the past crime first, then the prosecutor will be allowed to ask you about the details because you opened the door first. An experienced prosecutor will do their best to ask questions that prompt you to bring up topics that they aren't allowed to bring up first themselves.
You want to believe that the jury will listen to the evidence, including your testimony, with completely fair and impartial minds. Ideally, that's the way that it should be. But the truth is that jurors are only human, and they all bring their own biases and preconceived notions to the table. They'll judge you not only on the content of your testimony, but also on whether or not you seem likeable, trustworthy, and honest on the stand.
This can work for or against you. If you're personable and sympathetic, a jury may be inclined to give you some leeway, even if some of what you have to say is damaging. On the other hand, if you come across as abrasive or unlikable, you could hurt your chances even if your testimony is completely harmless.
It's tough to be objective about your own likeability. You'll probably have to rely on a third party's judgment on the matter – preferably, your lawyer's judgment. Your attorney's past experience with juries will help them judge whether or not you'll be likeable to a jury.
Although the decision about whether or not to testify is ultimately up to you, it's usually smart to heed expert advice on the matter. The best thing that you can do for yourself when you're facing trial is to hire a criminal law attorney that you trust and follow their recommendation about whether or not you should testify.