Criminal Defense in Orange County

Should I Testify at My DUI Trial?

Deciding Whether or Not to Testify

If you have been charged with driving under the influence, one of the most important decisions you will make is whether or not to take the stand. This is a difficult question that must be thought through carefully, and an Orange County DUI attorney can help you determine whether it is a good idea. You are not required to testify, but if you do, the prosecution has the right to cross-examine you. If you do not testify, the judge will instruct the jurors not to draw any conclusions from the fact that you are not testifying; however, you cannot always rely on jurors to follow that instruction.

Jurors want some explanation from a defendant for the evidence that the prosecution has put forward. Why do the police officers claim that they observed signs of intoxication? Why does the breathalyzer test say what it does? You may be the only witness who can testify as to everything that happened before, during, and after your arrest, which puts you in the position of being the person best-equipped to tell the story. In some cases, you may be the only witness the defense can call, and the case comes down to your word against the police (or the breathalyzer).

Tips for Testifying at Your Trial

Going to trial for a DUI charge can be an intensely frightening and intimidating experience. The prospect may be so frightening that you are sure you would rather accept a guilty plea than try to plead your innocence. However, an experienced criminal lawyer can help you formulate a defense strategy and prepare you for when you take the stand in your own defense. Your attorney will know that you are not a professional witness and that the experience can be nerve-wracking.

Here are some tips that may help you prepare for your testimony:

  • It's fine to be nervous; the jury will understand, so it is okay to admit it.
  • Be sure to listen closely to every question by the lawyers.
  • Count to three before answering, as it will allow you to think about your answer.
  • Keep your answers simple and specific, and do not elaborate or go into further detail.
  • Look at the jury when answering, and do not look down in your lap.
  • Try to make eye contact with individual jurors, and find someone who looks friendly.
  • It is okay to answer, "I don't know," if you truly don't know the answer.

Weighing the Pros & Cons of Your Potential Testimony

The decision to testify at your own trial is extremely important and may have great bearing on the final outcome of your case. You have to weigh both the pros and cons of the effect that your testimony could have on your case. As with anything, there are both advantages and disadvantages to testifying at your DUI trial. More importantly, a large part of your decision to testify will depend on how sympathetic the jury will find you. You must remember that nothing sinks a defense case faster than the testimony of an unlikeable, unbelievable and unsympathetic defendant.

On the other hand, if you decide not to testify, the jury may think that you have something to hide. Giving the jury a chance to see the actual person being accused can do much to elicit their sympathy. Therefore, you should give this decision careful thought. If you decide to testify, you will need to prepare by reviewing the kinds of questions you will be asked and how to answer them in a way to help your defense. Your Orange County DUI lawyer will not coach you on what to say. Rather, they will provide you with some general topics as to what you should expect and keep in mind.

Furthermore, unless there was a passenger, you are the only person who can contradict the officer's testimony about your arrest. However, there are also major pitfalls to testifying. No witness can damage your case as much as you can; if you make any mistakes while testifying or being cross-examined by the prosecution, it could dramatically reduce your chances of being found not guilty. If you make a bad first impression, it could negatively affect your case. Furthermore, you open yourself up to cross examination by the prosecution, which may allow them to paint you in a negative light.

Some of these downsides can be mitigated. If you choose to testify, you will be coached by your attorney to handle being cross-examined and to present yourself in a manner that is likely to make a good first impression and garner sympathy. However, ultimately, your lawyer's recommendation as to whether or not you should testify will be based on a comparison of how your testimony can strengthen your case with how your cross-examination can strengthen the prosecution's case.

If you have been charged with drunk driving, do not hesitate to set up a free consultation with The Law Office of Barney B. Gibbs today. We can put 30+ years of experience to work for you.