All criminal defendants have a Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, which means the prosecutor cannot force you to testify. But should you? Are there advantages or disadvantages? These are difficult questions to answer.
As experienced DWI defense attorneys, our initial reaction is that DWI suspects should not testify. The problem is that you might say something you regret which can lead directly to your conviction. However, there are some situations where your testimony could be helpful—even necessary. We look at two below.
You Need to Explain Why You Failed a Field Sobriety Test
Texas uses several different field tests, such as asking you to walk in a straight line or balance on one foot. If you appear unsteady, the police will investigate further or even conclude you don’t have control of your normal faculties, leading to an arrest.
There might be a simple explanation for your poor balance, however. For example, you might have suffered a foot injury which makes you unsteady, or you could have poor balance due to age. The fact that you couldn’t balance on one foot doesn’t mean you can’t drive safely.
Often, the only way to get this testimony on the record at trial is to have you get up on the stand to testify. Of course, that opens you up to cross examination.
You Want to Establish the Officer Lacked Cause to Stop You
Police can’t pull over anyone they have a hunch is drunk. Instead, they need clear facts that create a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Officers routinely claim that suspects drifted across the center line or were driving at night without their headlights on. Sad to say, but some police exaggerate your driving to justify their stop.
If you want to challenge the stop, you might need to testify. You could avoid that if you had a witness in the car who could testify how you were driving. But if you were driving alone, then you’ll probably need to take the stand.
Tips for Testifying
Always discuss the risks and benefits of testifying with your DWI defense attorney. We recommend the following tips for ensuring you get the most out of your time on the stand:
- Listen to the question and ask for clarification if you didn’t understand it.
- Only answer the question asked. Never offer more.
- Avoid the need to argue with the prosecutor. If you think he or she is misstating your testimony, your attorney can clear up the confusion later.
- Be truthful. Lying on the stand causes more problems than it solves. This is another reason to possibly not testify.
- Never get angry. Coming across as disruptive or mean will only make you appear more guilty to the jury and the judge.
For more tips on testifying, you can check out the United States Department of Justice website.
Discuss Your Options with Tad Nelson
Choosing whether to testify is often one of the most critical moments in any criminal trial. Ultimately, it’s up to the client. However, we believe in helping our clients consider the pros and cons so they make an informed choice. Contact us today to learn more.