Your Constitutional Right Not to Testify
In any criminal case, there is a presumption that you are innocent, and the prosecutor must prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. You also have a constitutional right to testify at any hearing in your criminal case if you want, but you are not required to take the stand under the Fifth Amendment. If you choose not to testify, the judge or jury cannot hold your silence against you when deciding whether you are guilty of the crimes you are accused of committing.
Five Reasons Not to Testify at Your Trial
While you have a right to take the stand at your jury trial, this does not mean you should testify. It may not be a good idea to testify, even if you know you were falsely accused of committing a crime.
You should listen to your attorney’s advice when deciding whether to testify. Reasons it may not be in your best interests to do this include the following:
- False testimony. Your lawyer might be ethically required to refuse to let you testify if they believe that you will commit perjury or mislead the judge or jury if you testify.
- Your criminal record. If you have an extensive criminal record, the prosecutor may be able to use this to discredit you when cross-examining you.
- Your demeanor. You may not have the right demeanor to be a good witness. You may appear harsh, cold, unlikeable, or unbelievable, which could hurt your chances of convincing the judge or jury of your innocence.
- Your performance under stress. Another consideration in deciding whether to testify is how you perform under the stress of being cross-examined by the prosecutor. If you appear agitated, nervous, or angry, the jury may believe this is a sign of guilt.
- Necessity. Depending on your defense, your testimony could be entirely unnecessary for your defense. For example, if your attorney is defending you by disputing blood alcohol, DNA, or other test results, your testimony would not help your defense and could hurt your case.