If your criminal case goes to trial, a critical tactical issue is whether or not you’ll testify. You’re not required to, and the prosecution has the burden to prove your guilt. But depending on the facts and evidence, taking the stand may be the right thing to do. If the time comes for that, Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico will support you in every way we can and help you to tell your side.
What Happens on the Witness Stand?
Witnesses are called to testify by the prosecution and defense. If you were to testify in your case, you would swear to tell the truth, and your attorney would start questioning you. The initial questions are called direct examination and are prepared in advance. This is your opportunity to present your version of events and facts that support your case. When that’s completed, it’s the prosecution’s turn to start cross-examination.
Cross Exam & Redirect
Cross-examination could involve questions about what you testified about, plus topics that may harm your credibility. When that’s over, there would be a re-direct examination from your attorney, where we ask questions to clear up confusion and false impressions caused by the prosecution’s cross-exam. This may continue back and forth, with re-direct and re-cross examination.
When it comes to cross-exams, each prosecutor has their style. They may be very theatrical. They want to put on a show, and you are the bad guy. Their voice may be raised, their arms may fly around, and they’ll try to increase the pressure, so you become uncomfortable and make a mistake.
Other prosecutors are surgical. They’re calmer because they want your guard to go down. Instead of putting on a show, they’re putting a puzzle together. By the end of the trial, they hope to show the judge or jury that you’re not credible and committed the crime.
During questioning, if the side that called the witness feels a question by the other attorney is improper, they can object. The attorney would give the reason why the question shouldn’t be allowed. The judge would decide if it can be asked or not.
If the objection is sustained (the judge agrees), the attorney posing the questions may change the question or approach the issue differently that may be acceptable to the judge.
Why Testifying May Be the Right Move
The prosecution presents the evidence first. They will make you out to be a terrible, crime-committing danger to society. The main reason to testify is to tell your side of the story. You can explain why you didn’t commit the crime and why your accusers are wrong. It’s also your opportunity to show you’re a decent human being who is been unfairly accused. You’re not a threat to anyone and deserve the benefit of the doubt.
The judge or jury knows you’re not compelled to testify, and if you don’t take the stand, it shouldn’t be held against you. But some people may feel that by not speaking out, you agree to what’s said. Their brain may be saying, “It’s OK you didn’t testify,” but their heart is saying, “If people lied about me, I would speak out.”
Generally, the weaker the prosecution’s case, the less need there is to testify. After the prosecution finishes its case against you, we would more than likely ask for the case to be dismissed because they failed to meet the burden of proof. If the judge agrees, the case is over. If not, we need to continue with your case and decide if you should testify.
A judge may not agree to a dismissal because the prosecution has produced strong enough evidence and testimony. If that’s the case, the need for you to testify may be more significant because, without reversing this tide, a conviction may be more certain. It might be your best chance to create enough doubt in the mind of the factfinder that they won’t convict you.
Whether To Testify Is up To the Client
Like every case, every client is unique. Some are very confident. They see testifying as a challenge to meet head-on and show everyone they’re innocent. Others may be very stressed. The process may scare them – they don’t want to be the focus of attention, and they fear doing more harm than good.
That’s why it’s important to get honest, experienced advice from your attorney. They will be the ones guiding you and are your best chance of success.
Their opinion as to whether or not testifying is a good idea will be based on the following:
- The facts of the case
- The evidence and testimony put on by the prosecution
- What your lawyer knows about you
- Your lawyer’s prior experience in court
But in the end, the decision to take the stand is the clients and the clients alone.
How We Prepare Clients To Testify
At Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico, we thoroughly prepare our clients for every aspect of their case. We make them as comfortable as possible and make sure they know all the facts. Our clients who take the stand are not alone. We will prepare for your testimony in advance and do everything we can to limit improper questions. On re-direct, we will clear the air so your story will be heard without confusion.
How a Roanoke Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help
The attorneys at Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico have built our reputation on getting the best outcomes for our clients. From initial hearings to pretrial motions, the trial itself, and then sentencing, we will advocate forcefully on your behalf at every stage.
If you’ve been charged with a crime, or if you’ve been convicted and you have an upcoming sentencing hearing, we can help. Call (540) 343-9349 to schedule a free, confidential consultation.