Criminal Defense - Why Not Testify In Your Own Defense?
In every criminal trial, the defendant faces a critical strategic decision: to testify or not to testify. Those outside the criminal justice system tend to view this decision in simple terms, believing that the innocent will take the stand and tell their side of the story while those with something to hide will not. Experienced criminal lawyers know that the decision is far more complex and rarely has anything to do with guilt or innocence.
Testifying is fraught with peril for any defendant. Guilty or innocent, if the defendant takes the stand, the case will likely turn on his performance as a witness. With so much at stake, the pressure on the defendant is enormous. One false step and he could lose his case. During cross-examination, a skilled prosecutor will attempt to confuse him and twist his words to make it appear that he is lying. If he?s a bad public speaker or gets nervous and says the wrong thing, he may appear guilty even though he?s not. If the jury is turned off by his tone or demeanor, or simply doesn?t like him for inexplicable reasons, the defense may never recover.
Apart from the impression the defendant makes during his testimony, the mere act of testifying may have the unintended effect of lowering the burden of proof. In a criminal case, a conviction requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the highest standard of proof in our legal system. When the only evidence presented comes from the prosecutor, the jury focuses on whether the prosecutor has met that high burden of proof. Once the defendant testifies, however, jurors tend to focus solely on who they believe, the defendant or the alleged victim. Rather than weighing the prosecutor?s case against the extraordinarily high standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the jurors tend to weigh the defendant?s story against the prosecutor?s or the victim?s story. This effectively lowers the standard of proof to something approaching a preponderance standard (more likely than not) and dramatically reduces the chances the defendant will win the case.
Finally, in some cases, there is truth to the widely held belief that a defendant who chooses not to testify is hiding something. Court rules normally limit the evidence admitted at trial to that which bears directly on the alleged crime. Evidence of uncharged misconduct and prior criminal convictions is usually excluded for fear that jurors who are exposed to such evidence will convict the defendant just because they believe him to be a bad person rather than because they have been presented proof that he actually committed the charged crime. If a defendant testifies, however, he may open the door for the use of such evidence by the prosecution. Knowing that evidence of prior bad acts may prejudice the jury against him, the defendant may elect not to testify so as to avoid any risk of exposing the jury to such damaging evidence.
Because of all the risks involved when a defendant testifies, many criminal defense attorneys advise their clients, regardless of perceived guilt or innocence, not to testify unless absolutely necessary. This advice frustrates the countless defendants who desperately want to proclaim their innocence to the jury. Most criminal defense attorneys have learned the hard way, however, that it is usually much safer to attack the prosecutor?s case than to put on one of your own.
Tito Rodriguez is a Seattle criminal defense attorney with over a decade of criminal defense experience. Mr. Rodriguez accepts all misdemeanor and felony cases including juvenile cases. In addition to Seattle, he serves neighboring cities such as Bellevue, Everett, and Tacoma, Washington. More information on Seattle criminal lawyer Tito Rodriguez is available at http://www.titorodriguez.com.
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* Government Statistics on Legal Verdicts and Jury Awards - $ U.S. district courts terminated approximately 512,000 civil cases during fiscal years 2002-03. Nearly 20% or 98,786 of these cases were torts in which plaintiffs claimed injury, loss, or damage from a defendant’s negligent or intentional acts. $ Of the 98,786 tort cases terminated in U.S. district courts in 2002-03, about 2% or 1,647 cases were decided by a bench or jury trial. $ An estimated 9 out of 10 tort trials involved personal injury issues C most frequently, product liability, motor vehicle (accident), marine, and medical malpractice cases. $ Juries decided about 71% of all tort cases brought to trial in U.S. district courts; judges adjudicated the remaining 29%. $ Plaintiffs won in 48% of tort trials terminated in U.S. district courts in 2002-03. Plaintiffs won less frequently in medical malpractice (37%) and product liability (34%) trials. $ Eighty-four percent of plaintiff winners received monetary damages with an estimated median award of $201,000. $ Plaintiffs won more often in bench (54%) than in jury (46%) tort trials. The estimated median damage awards were higher in jury ($244,000) than in bench ($150,000) tort trials.
April 2006 - A Jury in New Jersey found last week that Vioxx significantly contributed to a 77-year-old man's heart attack awarded him $9 million in punitive damages yesterday, raising Merck & Co.'s liability in the case to $13.5 million and intensifying pressure on it to settle such lawsuits.
Example of Personal Injury Case 2004 : Ford Explorer rollover-prone and roof not crash safe and worthy- CASE TYPE : Product Design Defect, Auto Truck Vehicle - SUV,
Motor Vehicle – Rollover CASE : Buell-Wilson v. Ford Motor Co., San Diego Co.,
Calif., Super. Ct. GIC 800836 Los Angeles, Calif.
JURY VERDICT: $369,000,000 (369 Millions Dolalrs
2005 - In what may be one of the biggest massive medical malpractice tort verdicts in the state of Texas, a state jury awarded $606 million - including a remarkable $ 600 million dollars in punitive damages - to the family of an 82-year-old patient who had cancer and then who died after receiving an overdose of chemotherapy drugs.
2005 - In the 9th big loss for Ford in SUV Explorer rollover cases, a Florida jury awarded $61.2 million to the parents of an 18-year-old boy who was killed in a 1997 (wrongful death & Product Defect and Product Liability Issues)
Example of Personal Injury Lawyer Case 2004 : Dodge Caravan seatback collapsed on baby in a car-seat - CASE TYPE : Automobiles, Products Liability -
Product Design Defect, Wrongful Death, Motor Vehicle -
Rear-ender, Motor Vehicle - Passenger, Motor Vehicle - Minivan
CASE : Flax v. DaimlerChrysler Corp., Davidson Co., Tenn., Cir. Ct. O2C-1288
JURY VERDICT : $105,500,000 (105 Million Dollars
2005 – Billion Dollar Verdicts - In one of 2005's largest verdicts to an individual plaintiff regarding financial fraud , a Florida jury ordered Morgan Stanley Broker Dealer to pay $1.45 billion to investor Ronald O. Perelman for defrauding him in the sale of his camping gear company - Coleman.
2005 - February, a prominent Houston law firm and a Texas bank were SMACKED and Beaten with a $65.5 million verdict in a highly complex estate planning case that involved major problems and conflicts of interest. (65 million dollar jury award)
2005 – 3 years after a jury acquitted a company in Florida of manslaughter and criminal charges, a Florida civil jury SLAMMED the outdoor advertiser with a $65 million jury award verdict for the shock and electrocution of a sixth-grade boy.
Age Discrimination - In December, a Los Angeles California jury found that PrivatAir - an aviation company focusing on private airline services - wrongfully fired Captain Doyle D. Baker on the basis of his age, defaming him in the termination process and causing extreme emotional distress.
Punitive damages serve a number of important functions which—despite a few horror stories, which are themselves either apocryphal or overturned in the courts, the functions remain valid and in the public interest. Persons causing great harm—persons deliberately or with gross negligence causing great harm should not view paying damages as merely a cost of doing business, a cost that might fit neatly into a risk analysis of wrongdoing. That is what happened in the Ford Pinto case in which the cost of paying claims to victims of a known deadly hazard was deemed less than the cost to retool the assembly line, and thus the hazard was maintained knowing full well that further people—more people would be injured or killed.
This is the purpose of punitive damages, to punish this kind of egregious wrongdoing, and to deter, to be a deterrent to such conduct. It is not immediately clear why a deterrent—or the necessity of the deterrent should bear any great relationship to the amount of actual damages in a given case. There is nothing wrong and indeed something highly desirable in maintaining this disincentive to wrongdoing in an appropriate relationship to the harm and the conduct of the tort-feasor. This trend has led one commentator to suggest that ''[p]unitive damages have replaced baseball as our national sport.'' Theodore B. Olson, Rule of Law: The Dangerous National Sport of Punitive Damages, Wall St. J., Oct. 5, 1994, at A17. See also Malcolm E. Wheeler, A Proposal for Further Common Law Development of the Use of Punitive Damages in Modern Products Liability Litigation, 40 Ala. L. Rev. 919, 919 (1989) (''Today, hardly a month goes by without a multimillion-dollar punitive damages verdict in a product liability case.'').