Your Right Not To Testify

If you have been arrested and charged with a criminal offense, you may find yourself in a court of law. You have several rights when it comes to criminal jurisprudence, and the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution applies to a wide range of judicial matters. Read on to learn more about these rights in regard to testifying on your own behalf.

Our Forefathers and the Fifth Amendment

When the Puritans fled England, they brought with them some radical ideas. Persecuted in England on the basis of religion, the idea that no one should be compelled to self-incriminate oneself took roots and grew into the Bill of Rights. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution gives broad powers to those who are being questioned (Miranda Rights), those in danger of being tried more than once for the same crime (double jeopardy), those who want to protect their sources (journalists), and more. Our right to protest in the street comes from the Fifth Amendment. When you stand accused of a crime, you also have the right to refuse to testify at your trial thanks to the Fifth Amendment.

If You Refuse to Testify

The decision to testify in court is strictly up to you. Your criminal attorney can advise you but cannot compel you to testify. Neither the judge or the prosecuting attorney can make you take the stand and answer questions about your case. On the other hand, you cannot take the stand and then refuse to answer a question. Once you agree to testify, you may be held in contempt of court for refusing to answer a question once you are on the stand. Once you speak, you have waived your Fifth Amendment rights in the matter and you can be called and questioned during the trial as many times as needed.

How Will Your Refusal Affect Your Case?

Jurors are always instructed that they must never take a defendant's refusal to testify as evidence of guilt or of innocence. That being said, there are likely some jurors who are unable to set aside their own natural bias against a defendant who declines to take the stand. In some cases, jurors are questioned during voir dire about their opinions on the defendant taking the stand. This does allow the defense attorney who wants to keep their options open some power to select jurors who show no bias.

Why Not Testify?

There are many factors at play in this issue, and your criminal defense attorney will advise you accordingly. Some people are not good speakers, have problems expressing themselves, come across as arrogant, or have too much anxiety to take the stand. However, if you are able to take the stand and are prepared for questioning, you can do your case a world of good. Speak to your attorney to learn more about this issue.