When you face a criminal charge, it can be natural to want to speak up and explain, especially if you are innocent. You may feel that if you get the opportunity to lay out your version of events on the stand, it will sway the judge or jury. So, it can be frustrating and even mystifying if your defense attorney advises you not to testify.
Why might your attorney be saying this?
Defense attorneys do not need more ammunition
Testifying on your own behalf has the potential to hurt you more than it helps you. One reason is that defense attorneys get to cross-examine you. They may ask questions that force you to appear confused or secretive and cut you off before you can explain further. By you not testifying, your attorney can better control what information the jury hears.
Juries keep an open mind
Speaking of juries, you may be surprised at how open-minded they can be. It is easy to believe that most jurors, after realizing you are not testifying, will immediately conclude you have something to hide or are guilty. However, the reality is that many jurors are able to avoid making pre-conceived notions. They actually listen to the explanations from the judge, the prosecutor and the defense attorney about your right to remain silent. People are good at compartmentalizing, and that includes jurors.
Your behavior might come across wrong
It may seem strange to say that jurors keep an open mind and then jump into this statement: Your behavior may make jurors wonder at a few things. It is true, though, that if you decide to smile a lot on the witness stand while facing an embezzlement charge, a juror may think that is odd behavior. If you decide to keep a neutral face, a juror may see you as calculating and take a dislike to you. Maybe your race, way of speaking or cultural background could affect how your jurors think too. It can take just one little mistake that is not really a mistake to send a juror’s thinking down a dangerous path.
Of course, if your attorney advises you to testify, give it serious thought. It can be part of a sound strategy that pays off, but so can be not testifying.