Whether the defendant will testify is a crucial decision in a criminal trial. Despite jury instructions admonishing jurors not to infer anything from a defendant’s silence, the fact-finder may want to hear from the person on trial. Plus, listening to the defendant may foster sympathy in the jury. Or the jury might simply believe his or her version of facts.
On the other hand, defendants vary in their articulateness and composure—exposing them to a grilling by the prosecutor can cause a defense to crumble. Pointed and confusing questions can trip up even innocent defendants. And defendants who appear to be angry or insincere are likely to alienate jurors.
So, what’s a defendant to do?
The short answer is that criminal defendants should generally trust in their lawyers. This is undoubtedly a tall task for some. But clients should carefully consider their attorneys’ advice. They aren’t required to accept it—the ultimate decision of whether to testify lies with the defendant. But an attorney’s expertise can be invaluable.
The lawyer can take into account all kinds of information in advising the client whether to testify, from the strength of the defense without the defendant taking the stand to the possibility that testimony will allow admission of prior convictions.
Of course, if you must decide whether to testify in your own case, you don’t need to blindly follow your lawyer’s advice. Make sure to communicate your thoughts—including hesitations—to your attorney. If you and the lawyer can get on the same page, your defense will be all the stronger.