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Mark I. Cohen, ESQ. NYC Criminal Attorney

Should A Defendant Testify In Their Criminal Trial?


If you’re facing criminal charges and your case is going to trial, one of the questions you might be asking yourself is whether you should testify in court. The law allows you to testify or choose not to testify in your criminal trial. If you are innocent, you might feel compelled to take the witness stand and tell the court you did not commit the offense you’ve been charged with. But things are not that simple. Testifying in your criminal trial might or might not help reveal the truth. Sometimes, if a defendant testifies, it works to an advantage, and sometimes it destroys their case. Indeed, the decision to testify or not testify in your criminal trial is ultimately up to you. However, a criminal defense attorney can advise you on the potential benefits and disadvantages of testifying in your trial based on your case’s specifics and help you make the right decision.

The Fifth Amendment Protects Criminal Defendants

The Fifth Amendment creates several rights relevant to criminal legal proceedings. One of the rights the Fifth Amendment guarantees criminal defendants is the right against self-incrimination. This right includes the right not to take the witness stand during a criminal trial.

If a defendant decides they won’t testify in their criminal trial, that decision not to testify cannot be held against them in court. In fact, in a criminal trial, a defendant is entitled to a jury instruction that informs jurors that the defendant has a right to choose whether or not to testify. A defendant is entitled to a jury instruction that notifies jurors that the fact that a defendant decides not to testify cannot be considered evidence. A criminal defendant is considered innocent until proven guilty. This is true whether they testify at trial or not.

If a defendant chooses to testify in their criminal trial, they waive their right to remain silent. A defendant who decides to testify in their criminal trial will likely be ordered to answer questions if they refuse to do so.

Deciding Whether To Take the Witness Stand

As mentioned earlier, the decision of whether to testify in court is ultimately yours as a defendant. Before deciding whether to testify in your criminal trial, there are some important factors you need to consider. For example, you need to consider whether you have a criminal record. Your criminal record is otherwise not admissible in court. However, if you decide to take the witness stand, the prosecutor is allowed to bring up your past criminal record in an attempt to impeach your character. If you have a past criminal record, it might not be wise to take the witness stand.

You also need to consider whether you perform well under pressure. Testifying can be stressful. It can be emotional and overwhelming. If you do not perform well under pressure, it might not be a good idea to testify in your criminal trial. If you take the witness stand and become nervous, irritated, or agitated, your behavior may be wrongfully misunderstood as a sign of guilt.

Contact an NYC Criminal Defense Attorney

If your criminal case is proceeding to trial and you’re unsure whether you should testify in court, contact the experienced NYC criminal defense attorney Mark I. Cohen at 212-732-0002 to get professional legal guidance.

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