What to Consider When Deciding Whether to Testify in Your Northern Arizona Criminal Trial
Being charged with a criminal offense in Flagstaff or Northern Arizona can be a frightening experience that can have long-term consequences for the rest of your life. One important decision you may need to make is whether to testify at your criminal trial. The experienced Flagstaff criminal defense lawyers at Griffen & Stevens, PLLC can help you weigh your options and aggressively defend you so you achieve the best outcome in your criminal case.
If you've been charged with a crime in Flagstaff or Northern Arizona, you may wonder whether you will have to testify at your trial. This decision is one of the most critical ones you will make in your criminal case. Even if you believe you are innocent, whether to testify may not be an easy decision. Here are some of the pros and cons you will want to weigh:
Two Considerations in Flagstaff Criminal Cases: Presumption of Innocence and the Prosecutor's Burden of Proof
When deciding whether to testify, it is crucial to understand the presumption of innocence and the prosecution's burden of proof in your criminal case. The presumption of innocence is a fundamental right that defendants have under our criminal justice system. In Arizona, as in the rest of the United States, any individual charged with a crime is presumed innocent unless they are proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
This means the burden of proof rests entirely on the prosecution. They must present enough evidence to convince the judge or jury of the accused's guilt beyond any reasonable doubt. This burden of proof is a very high standard of proof that prosecutors cannot always meet, even when the defendant is guilty. In some cases, a jury may believe that the person committed the crime but may decide on a verdict of not guilty because they do not think the prosecution met their burden of proof.
Reasons Not to Testify in Your Criminal Case
In most cases, it is not in a person's best interest to testify at their criminal trial. This is true even if you believe you have been falsely accused of a crime. Here are several reasons why our skilled criminal defense lawyers may advise you not to testify in your criminal case:
Reason #1: Constitutional Right Not to Testify
The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects your right to remain silent and not to incriminate yourself. If you choose not to testify, the prosecutor cannot use your silence against you. The judge would instruct the jury that they cannot use the fact that you did not testify against you when deciding their verdict.
Reason #2: Testimony May Not Be Necessary
Sometimes, the evidence presented by the prosecution is insufficient. Your skilled criminal defense lawyer may believe there is no need for you to testify to prove your innocence and that they can argue the prosecution has not met its burden of proof.
Your attorney and you are a team, and you need to help them defend you. One of the best ways you can do this is to follow their advice if they advise you not to testify.
Reason #3: Perjury
Testifying can be risky, especially if you are not entirely certain of all the facts or have a history of contradictory statements. Committing perjury by lying under oath can result in separate criminal charges. If your lawyer believes you will give false testimony, they may be required to refuse to allow you to testify.
Reason #4: Your Criminal Record
Testifying may open the door for the prosecutor to introduce information on cross-examination if you have a prior criminal record. They can use your prior convictions to impeach your credibility and suggest a pattern of criminal behavior.
Reason #5: Your Demeanor
Juries pay close attention to a defendant's demeanor on the witness stand. Being nervous, agitated, unlikeable, or hostile can negatively impact their perception of you and your innocence.
Reason #6: How You Perform Under Stress
Testifying in court is highly stressful, and you may not perform well under this pressure. You could make inconsistent statements when testifying that can be exploited by the prosecution.
In addition, you could become agitated or angry. The jury could interpret this unfavorably and believe this is a sign that you are guilty.
Reason #7: Cross-Examination
When you testify, the prosecutor has the opportunity to cross-examine you. This means they can ask you tough questions and try to make you contradict yourself or cast doubt on your credibility. You may say something that hurts your defense even if you know you are innocent and have nothing to hide.
Why You May Decide to Take the Stand
While there are many potential drawbacks to testifying, there are also circumstances where it may be in your best interest. Here are situations when our Flagstaff criminal defense lawyers may recommend you take the stand:
Most Credible Witness
You may be the most credible witness if the prosecution's witnesses are unreliable or do not appear truthful. Especially if you are charged with an offense, such as domestic violence, where only the alleged victim and you were present, your testimony can provide clarity and directly address the allegations against you.
If you have a solid alibi that can prove you were not at the scene of the crime when it occurred, your testimony may be essential to establishing your innocence.
You may have made statements to the police during the investigation or at the time of your arrest that could be misinterpreted as incriminating or taken out of context. Testifying at your trial can allow you to explain these statements and provide a more accurate perspective on your case.
In any criminal case, whether you should testify or not is a decision that should be made in consultation with your attorney. Your criminal defense lawyer will consider the specific facts of your case, the strength of the evidence against you, and the potential risks and benefits of testifying. They will help you make an informed decision that best serves your defense.
Four Other Important Decisions You Will Need to Make in Your Flagstaff Criminal Case
Deciding whether to testify is not the only decision you will need to make in your criminal case. Here are four critical choices you may have to decide on:
Jury vs. Bench Trial
When deciding whether to opt for a jury trial or a bench trial, several factors must be considered. In a jury trial, your case is heard by a group of impartial jurors who will render a verdict. The advantage of this approach is that it involves more perspectives, potentially leading to a fairer outcome. However, it is also unpredictable since you cannot control the jurors' decisions, biases, or opinions.
In a bench trial, the judge decides your case. This can be beneficial if you believe your case hinges on applying legal principles rather than emotional factors. However, it puts the outcome squarely in the hands of one individual, the judge.
A plea bargain is an agreement negotiated by the prosecutor and your defense attorney. It typically means you plead guilty to a less serious crime in exchange for a reduced sentence or other favorable terms. Whether to accept a plea bargain is a critical decision in your case.
Entering into a plea agreement can result in a lighter sentence and save time and resources. Additionally, it can be a more predictable way to resolve your case.
However, the drawback of accepting a plea bargain is that you must admit guilt, which would result in a criminal record and the long-term consequences this causes in your life. In addition, you would not have the opportunity to prove your innocence in court.
Attorney to Hire
Choosing a criminal defense lawyer is one of your most vital decisions and can significantly impact the outcome of your case. Depending on your situation, you may need to decide whether to accept a public defender or retain a private lawyer. When hiring a lawyer, it is crucial to select a Flagstaff criminal defense lawyer who will aggressively defend you, has extensive experience helping clients charged with crimes, and has a track record of success in negotiating plea bargains and taking cases to trial.
If your case results in an unfavorable verdict, you must decide whether to pursue an appeal. An appeal challenges violations of your constitutional rights and the legal errors made during the trial.
Filing an appeal can provide a second chance to have errors in your trial corrected, possibly leading to a more favorable outcome. However, it can be time-consuming and expensive, and there is no guarantee of success.