Will I Have to Testify at My DUI Trial?
Part of your DUI attorney’s job is deciding who should testify on your behalf. As a defendant, you have no duty to put up any evidence whatsoever. You are innocent until and unless proven guilty. Most experienced criminal defense attorneys do not put their clients on the witness stand unless the client’s testimony is absolutely essential to winning the case.
If you are starting your DUI-DWI trial, it is important at this point to accept that your attorney “knows best” in regard to how to conduct your trial. He or she will have a game plan for how the case should proceed and how the evidence will “play out.” The plan remains flexible until he or she sees what the prosecution puts forward as far as testimony and evidence. Your attorney then proceeds to present to the judge and jury whatever evidence is needed (if any) to refute the State’s case against you.
If your attorney does think it advisable for you to present witnesses, he or she does so based on decades of experience with the court you are in, with the judge who is running the court, with the same type juries you now face.
Your DUI-DWI specialist knows the law and is familiar with the smallest details of your case. Your attorney knows what evidence or testimony may be able to be introduced in your favor, and has evaluated how much damage the prosecutor may be able to inflict on your case by way of cross-examination. After all of the months of preparation, it is best for you to trust your attorney’s judgment.
Your job at trial may be to remain attentive and “likeable” so that the jurors remain open to entering a not guilty verdict on your charges.
Many defendants in your position want to testify. They want to tell their side of the story. They want their day in court. However, if the defendant in a criminal case takes the witness stand, the entire dynamic of the trial changes for the jury. It often becomes a popularity contest between a law enforcement officer, who is trained on how to be a good witness and often has over 100 trials under his or her belt, and you – – – an accused “drunk driver.”
An experienced DUI-DWI attorney takes endless factors into account before he or she recommends that you take the stand in your defense. He or she may insist that you not take the stand. First, what do you have to say? Juries may be less willing to believe you because they may believe that you might say anything to save yourself. It may be much more powerful for the friend you had been with all evening to take the stand and say you had had only two drinks during the entire evening, and showed no sign of impairment whatsoever.
Second, after months of working with you, your attorney likely has a good idea of how you will be perceived by a jury. Most accused citizens are not able to endure a grueling cross-examination by a seasoned prosecutor. An experienced trial attorney can evaluate this aspect of your case better that you can.
Third, if you take the stand in your defense, while you get to tell your side of the story, the prosecution gets to cross-examine you. The prosecutor’s job is to ask you difficult questions, making you appear to be a liar or a fool. There is an art to cross-examination, and some prosecuting attorneys are very good at it.
In conclusion, while you may make a few points by testifying on your own behalf, the prosecutor usually damages your case in some respect. In the worst-case scenario, the prosecutor may torpedo your entire case by making you look bad on the witness stand. The decision of whether or not you testify is ultimately yours. However, not following your expert attorney’s advice is similar to not heeding your physician’s health recommendations.