Every criminal defendant in New Jersey and all other states has the right to testify on their own behalf. As the defendant, you have a lot of decision-making power that your attorney or the judge cannot take away from you. If you want to testify, there is not much anyone can do to stop you. Being allowed to testify is crucial to telling the court your side of the story.
Whether or not testifying in your own trial is a good idea is a tricky question to answer. Every case is different, and each defendant will approach their case with different strategies. Sometimes, testifying on your own behalf can be a good idea and may help convince a jury that you are innocent. However, in other cases, testifying may be like shooting yourself in the foot.
If you are charged with a crime in New Jersey and are thinking about testifying at your trial, consult with a lawyer before making a decision. Our New Jersey criminal defense attorneys can review your case and help you determine if testifying is a good idea for your case. Call the Law Offices of John J. Zarych at (609) 616-4956 to set up a free consultation about your case.
Your Right to Testify in a Criminal Case in New Jersey
As a defendant, you have the right to testify in your own defense. This right cannot be taken away from you absent some exceptional circumstances. It may feel like lawyers and judges are the ones in charge of your trial, but do not forget that you have control over important parts of your own case.
A defendant’s right to testify is highly regarded and valued by the judicial system. This right is so vital that, in 2012, the Superior Court of New Jersey ruled in State v. Cullen that a defendant’s right to testify is more important than the court’s interest in moving the case along. In that case, the trial judge denied the defendant’s right to testify after changing his mind on the issue. The Superior Court said that was wrong and the defendant received a new trial as a result.
The choice to testify is yours alone. Your attorney will advise you on what they think is best, but ultimately the choice is yours. Even if your attorney wants you to remain silent during your trial, you can override them and demand to testify. However, deciding to testify can open you up to cross-examination and self-incrimination. You should have a serious discussion with your lawyer about testifying before making a final decision. Our Atlantic County criminal defense attorneys can help you.
Think Carefully Before Deciding to Testify in a Criminal Case in New Jersey
You may testify as a right, but you may also choose to waive that right if they see fit. Every defendant can testify, but the prosecutor will cross-examine them. Cross-examination is when the opposing attorney questions a witness. The goal of cross-examination is to undermine the witness’ testimony and credibility and weaken the opposing party’s case. Cross-examination is a critical part of your right to confront witnesses against you. However, you are not free from cross-examination yourself.
You must weigh the risk of self-incrimination on cross-examination against your own exculpatory testimony. If your testimony is relatively weak and would not add much to your case, consider remaining silent. However, if your testimony is strong and there is minimal risk of self-incrimination, you might want to consider testifying. Most importantly, talk to your attorney and listen to their advice. They are there to help you. Our Cape May criminal defense lawyers can help you reach a thoughtful and well-reasoned decision about testifying.
Choosing Not to Testify in a Criminal Trial in New Jersey
Choosing not to testify is a common choice in criminal cases. Defendants have a right against self-incrimination, so they do not have to take the stand if they do not want to. Many defendants feel the risk of being incriminated on the stand outweighs any benefit of their testimony. This may be especially so when other witnesses can present stronger and more convincing testimony.
Also, choosing not to testify may have more minimal repercussions as it cannot be used against you. The prosecutor may not attempt to incriminate you based on your silence in court. Defendants often feel compelled to testify because they think it will appear as if they are hiding something if they do not. However, this is not permitted to be brought up to the jury. In fact, juries are typically instructed before deliberations not to consider silence as a sign of guilt. Bear in mind, even though juries are technically not allowed to look at silence as an indicator of guilt, they may still reach this conclusion in their deliberations.
Contact our Haddonfield criminal defense lawyers to get more in-depth explanations of testifying in your own trial and when it is or is not a good idea.
When Is Testifying in a Criminal Trial in New Jersey a Good Idea?
The answer to this question will depend heavily on the circumstances of your case. There will always be a risk of self-incrimination because that is the point of cross-examination. Prosecutors are working against you every step of the way. Testifying may be a good idea when the testimony you plan to give is more helpful to your case than harmful, but the benefits must outweigh the risks.
A lot also depends on your case strategy. If you can plan for witnesses with testimony that bolsters and supports your own, it may be a good idea to testify. Also, if you can predict how prosecutors may impeach you as a witness, you may be able to craft a more effective defense strategy. Or you could not testify and avoid impeachment altogether. An experienced attorney will be able to analyze your case and help you determine if testifying is a good idea.
Contact Our New Jersey Criminal Defense Lawyers for Guidance
If you were charged with a crime and your trial is fast approaching, you should deeply consider what you will or will not say in your own defense. Our experienced New Jersey criminal defense lawyers can help you make important decisions about how to best defend yourself in court. Call the Law Offices of John J. Zarych at (609) 616-4956 to speak with our dedicated legal team.