Should You Ever Testify as a Defendant in a Florida Criminal Case?
If you were falsely charged with a crime in Florida or believe that your story needs to be presented in court, you will no doubt jump at the chance to take the witness stand when your case goes to trial. It is understandable that you seek to provide your own recollection about the events surrounding your arrest. Of course, you are not required to testify when you are the defendant in a criminal case. The Florida Constitution states that you cannot be compelled to act as a witness against yourself, mirroring your right against self-incrimination under the US Constitution.
Under the circumstances, you will probably wonder: Is it ever a good idea to testify as a defendant in a Florida criminal case? As with many other legal questions, your strategy depends on numerous factors, so you should rely on a Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyer for answers. Some general information may put the legal concepts into perspective.
Overview of Defendants Testifying in Florida Criminal Cases: Basically, the issue comes down to a familiar adage: Just because you CAN do something does not mean you should. In almost every case, a criminal defense lawyer will recommend that you not take the stand because of the risks. They have little to do with the testimony you offer in connection with your own attorney’s questioning; the problem is that you are subject to cross-examination by the prosecutor. Because you are testifying under oath, you must answer the questions truthfully – potentially leading you to admit that you committed the crime. There are exceptions when your testimony is necessary to prove an affirmative defense, such as acting in self-defense.
Fortunately, there are plenty of strategies for defending your interests even when you do not take the stand. Your lawyer may:
- Elicit exculpatory evidence by cross-examining the prosecutor’s witnesses;
- Putting other witnesses on the stand and introducing evidence when it is your turn to present the case-in-chief; and,
- Many other options that demonstrate weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case.
Tips When Testifying in Your Own Defense: The first, most important tip is to trust your attorney and heed advice about whether to take the witness stand. If you make a coordinated, informed decision to go forward, the following tips should help you deliver credible testimony and make a positive impression.
- Dress professionally, as if you were attending a job interview;
- Always listen to the full question before answering;
- Consider your answer before speaking it;
- Never become argumentative with the prosecutor or purposefully evade answering questions; and,
- Practice cross-examination with your lawyer so you will not be caught off guard by the prosecution’s questions.
Discuss Your Options with a Florida Criminal Defense Attorney
There is no easy answer to the question of whether it is wise to take the witness stand in a Florida criminal case, but you are in a better position to make informed decisions when you retain experienced legal representation. For more information, please contact Fort Lauderdale criminal attorney Kevin J. Kulik to schedule a confidential consultation at our office.