Should You Testify In Your Own Defense?
With two high profile homicide cases in the news of late, the public has had the opportunity to watch the testimony of two defendants in homicide cases. Kyle Rittenhouse testified that he believed his life was in danger and so he shot three BLM protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Likewise, Travis McMichael took the stand to attempt to convince the jury that he thought he was in a “life-or-death” situation when he took the life of Ahmaud Arbery. In both situations, the defendants and their attorneys had to make the decision as to whether the benefits of providing their own narrative relating to the accusations outweighed the peril of a potentially devastating cross examination by the prosecution. In both cases, it was determined that in order for a self-defense claim to have merit, the defendants would have to tell the jury what happened in their own words.
While in many murder trials the jury is asked to make a judgment as to whether or not the defendant is guilty of committing the homicide, that is not the situation here. Neither defendant—Rittenhouse nor McMichael– disputes the fact that lives were lost, and both defendants concede that they, themselves, pulled the triggers that led to death. What’s in dispute—and what the jury must determine in order to deliver a verdict, is whether the defendants provoked the situation and whether they reasonably believed their lives were in danger. Was the motivation for the shootings self-defense, or something else?
A Tricky Call
It’s one of the most important and difficult decisions to make: should the defendant take the stand? The calculation could be the difference between an acquittal and a prison sentence. If a defendant exercises his right to remain silent, will the jury interpret it as a guilty person hiding something? On the other hand, will a defendant be skewered by a skilled prosecutor who manages to create the illusion of guilt? Every situation is different, and a knowledgeable defense attorney will advise the defendant based on the details of the case, as well as the attorney’s experience and knowledge. Ultimately, the final decision as to whether to testify on one’s own behalf is up to the defendant. Rittenhouse and McMichael chose to present their version of reality to the jury. The results of those decisions remain to be seen.
Making the Right Decision
Generally speaking, fewer than 10 percent of defendants who wind up on trial make the decision to testify. What should you do? The experienced Kissimmee criminal defense attorneys at the Salazar & Kelly Law Group can analyze your case and advocate for the best strategies and outcomes on your behalf. Schedule a confidential consultation in our office today.