Testifying in Your Own Case
If you have been indicted or charged with a crime, the prosecutor cannot make you testify in your own case. The prosecutor bears the burden of proving your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and you can stay silent throughout your criminal trial. If you do choose to testify, what you say may be used to incriminate you. The decision about whether to testify in your own trial is an important one, and should ideally be made with the help of a skillful St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney.Testifying in Your Own Case
You can assert your Fifth Amendment right not to speak in any proceeding that you reasonably believe could be used in a criminal prosecution or that might lead to other evidence that could be reasonably used against you. You can also elect not to testify in your own criminal case.
Generally, it’s important to consult your lawyer when deciding whether to testify in your case. The prosecutor is not only not your attorney, but also has a vested interest in seeing you convicted once trial begins. The prosecutor represents the state, not a particular citizen. Your own attorney is loyal only to you and will look for ways in which what you have to say could be used against you. If you choose to testify on direct examination, the prosecutor will have an opportunity to cross-examine you. The cross-examination process can be used to catch you in a lie.
If you are asked a question while testifying, you should make sure to listen to the question. When you don’t understand a question because it’s confusing, you should ask the question to be rephrased rather than trying to answer it. You should never speculate when you’re testifying in your own case. You should also make sure you’re answering only the question you’re being asked. Sometimes if you give an answer that’s more detailed than what was requested, it hurts your defense or opens the door to a new question. Sometimes there are strategic reasons why your own attorney avoids asking questions about particular topics, thus it is important to keep your answers brief and to the point.
While you are being questioned, the prosecution will be looking for inconsistencies in your testimony. For example, in a burglary trial, if you first claim you went into a house because you thought someone was hurt (rather than to commit a crime) and then later claim you had gone in because you were dropping off a package, it is likely the prosecutor will question you more on this issue and try to show the jury the inconsistency in order to claim you are not truthful. Another technique a prosecutor may use to cast doubt on your credibility is impeachment.Impeachment
It’s important to realize that once you decide to testify, the prosecutor can try to impeach you or show the judge or jury you’re not credible. Choosing to testify puts your credibility at issue in the same way that other witness’ credibility is put at issue when they testify. Often the prosecutor will seek to show a lack of credibility on your part by establishing that you’ve previously been convicted of a crime. In this situation there is a danger not only that the jury will infer that you are untruthful because of the prior conviction, but also that you perpetrated the crime for which you’re currently on trial. Prior criminal convictions that can be used to impeach include those punishable by imprisonment of more than a year or by death, and those involving false statements or dishonesty. The law of the place you were convicted will determine whether the conviction can be used to impeach you.Retain a Seasoned Criminal Defense Attorney in St. Petersburg
If you have been arrested or charged with a crime and are worried about testifying in your own case in St. Petersburg, your concerns are valid. At Hanlon Law, we can answer your questions. Our founder Will Hanlon has provided knowledgeable legal representation and counsel to the accused since 1994, and has extensive trial experience. Please contact Hanlon Law at 727.289.0222 or via our online form.