One of the thorniest issues for any Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyer and client is whether the defendant should take the stand and testify in their own defense.
Although we understand the general inclination of our clients to “have their day in court,” clearing your name isn’t nearly as simple as courtroom TV dramas might suggest. It’s true that a defendant’s testimony can make or break a case. But that also means any defendant who takes the stand in their own Florida criminal trial is also taking some enormous risks. Sometimes it’s necessary, but it’s never a judgment call that should be made flippantly.
It’s important to point out that few criminal cases in Florida ever make it to the trial phase. The vast majority are either dismissed or settled with plea agreements, typically on reduced charges. Having a skilled defense attorney might increase the odds that your charges will be dropped early on, but it could also boost the chances of a trial. That’s because with a knowledgeable advocate,. you’re far less likely to settle in cases where there is weak or minimal evidence against you.
Y0u Aren’t Required to Testify in Your Criminal Case
While the court system has ways of compelling testimony from other witnesses in your case, the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution essentially prohibits an inquisition. You are protected against being compelled in any case to be a witness against yourself.
That same protection is outlined in Section 9 of the Florida Constitution, where it states that “No person shall be… compelled in any criminal matter to be a witness against oneself.” Prosecutors can’t use this fact against you for declining to do so, and you can’t be penalized for it.
So if you don’t want to testify, you are under zero obligation to do so. And there may be very good reasons your Fort Lauderdale defense lawyer might agree with that’s the best course of action.
What Do Fort Lauderdale Defense Lawyers Typically Advise?
As we sometimes have explained to clients, “A good many defendants have talked their way into prison, but very few talk their way out.” This is often as true at the trial stage as it is in the investigative stage.
When we’re advising defense clients on what we think is the best course of action, we tend to lean toward staying mum. Even though jurors often expect to hear from the defendant, one of the big risks is that when they do, the proof burden and presumption of innocence become less important than whether the jury believes you.
The existence of a prior felony conviction (and convictions for some other offenses) is known to lead jurors to making the inference that a witness is highly likely to lie under oath. In studies with mock trials, “jurors” who were told that a “defendant” had a prior conviction were more likely to find that defendant was guilty.
For this reason that if you have a prior criminal record, your defense attorney may strongly advise you against taking the stand. But it’s not an exact science. Every single case is different.
It’s generally our experience that the decision to testify isn’t necessarily a determining factor that can be evaluated in isolation. It depends on so many other elements, such as the strength of an alibi, other witnesses, or DNA evidence. A defendant’s testimony bolstered by these is going to be much more credible. We might even consider whether we’re dealing with a bench or jury trial (given that judges alone are often more likely to convict than juries, which require unanimous consensus).
This is why it’s an imperative that you rely on the advice of a skilled Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyer with a track record of success in cases similar to yours. We have a good deal of trial experience, and can provide you with an evidence-based opinion on how strong (or weak) of a witness we believe you’d be to your own defense.
Call Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
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