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Should a Defendant Testify in a Criminal Trial?

by | Feb 24, 2023 | Criminal Defense

Were you arrested and charged with a crime? You need to know how to defend yourself. While only a small percentage of criminal charges filed in Minnesota go to trial, it is still important to prepare a comprehensive defense. You may be wondering whether you can or should testify as a defendant in a trial. You always have the right to testify on behalf of yourself—though, as a general rule, many people do not take the stand in their defense. Here, our Mankato criminal defense lawyer provides an overview of key considerations for whether or not a defendant should testify in their own trial.

Know Your Rights: No Defendant Can Be Compelled to Testify

Although every defendant has a right to testify in their case, they are never required to by law. The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution grants defendants the right against self incrimination. In effect, this means that they cannot be compelled to testify in their own criminal trial. It is a legal protection designed to prevent the government from forcing a defendant to make statements that could be used against them in court. Notably, neither a judge or jury can use the fact that a defendant invoked their Fifth Amendment rights against them. It is not evidence of guilt.

The Risk of Defendant Testifying in a Criminal Trial

You may be aware that many people are encouraged not to testify on their own behalf when facing criminal charges. Why? Testifying can be risky—even if you are wholly innocent of the charges. If a defendant testifies, they are subject to cross-examination by the prosecutor. In other words, if you testify, the prosecutor gets a chance to question you on the stand. When they do so, they will invariably attempt to undermine your credibility or otherwise expose weaknesses in your case. Your words can easily get twisted or otherwise taken out of the proper context.

Case-By-Case Basis: Personalized Defense Strategy is a Must

The decision of whether or not to testify in a criminal trial should be made on a case-by-case basis, and with the guidance of an experienced Mankato, MN criminal defense attorney. Every case is unique, and the defendant’s decision to testify should be based on a thorough understanding of the specific circumstances, evidence, and potential risks and benefits. Some key factors that will impact whether or not it makes sense for a defendant to testify in a criminal trial include:

  • The defendant’s prior criminal record, or lack thereof;
  • The defendant’s general personal demeanor;
  • How the defendant performs under stressful questions;
  • The strength of the prosecution’s case; and
  • The necessity of testimony to establish the defendant’s innocence.

Consult With Our Mankato Criminal Defense Lawyer Today

At Kohlmeyer Hagen, Law Office Chtd., our trial-tested Minnesota criminal defense attorney has the professional expertise that you can rely on. Call us now or send us a direct message to set up a fully confidential review of your case. From our Mankato and Rochester law office, our legal team provides legal representation across Southern Minnesota.