Criminal defense attorneys often have to make a decision with their clients about whether or not they will testify during trial proceedings. This is an important decision that can definitely affect the trial both positively or negatively. The decision whether or not to testify is unique to every person and every trial. Before a decision is made, a client and their attorney should have a conversation about the pros and cons of giving testimony during a criminal trial.
The simple answer is: No. The laws of the State of Texas say that a person charged with a crime does not have to testify on their own behalf in their trial. They have an absolute right to remain silent and the Jury is not allowed to use a person’s lack of testimony as evidence of guilt. Persons charged with a crime do not have to prove that they are innocent – the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they are guilty. An experienced criminal defense attorney will point this out to the seated jury.
Even more importantly, criminal defense lawyers know the importance of identifying during voir dire potential jurors who indicate when questioned that they may feel it is necessary for a defendant to testify. The attorney can then request that they be stricken from jury consideration.
Should you decide to testify, your attorney will be allowed to ask you non-leading questions and you will be given the opportunity to testify regarding the facts of the case from your perspective. The jury will be judging what you say, how you say it, how you are dressed, and any non-verbal signals you may be giving. Basically, a juror is determining if they can trust what you are telling them.
The most important part about testifying at your own trial is being cross-examined by the prosecutor. The prosecutor is an attorney who represents the State of Texas. It is his or her job to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty. In this effort, they are allowed to ask you leading questions that will challenge your truthfulness regarding the charges you are facing. Don't ever forget that it is the job of the prosecutor to convince a jury that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in any legal way possible.
Even the best defense can fall apart with a strong cross-examination by a good prosecutor. This is why it is so important to discuss your unique situation and ability to handle cross-examination with your criminal defense lawyer. Together, a decision can be reached about whether or not testifying will be good for your case.
Garza & Elizondo, LLP
680 East St. Charles St, Suite 600
Brownsville TX 78520
1393 East Alton Gloor Blvd, Suite 12
Brownsville TX 78526