Woman testifying at court

Even in the simplest of cases, defendant testimony can quickly be derailed. It’s a common assumption that testifying on your own behalf is the simplest way to reveal the truth. Unfortunately, the courtroom is not always so straightforward—even for innocent defendants.

Why Defendant Testimony is Risky

While on the witness stand, your attorney will do what they can to help you share your side of events. When cross examination begins, however, the prosecutor will ask you questions that can trip you up, paint you in a negative light, and even make you contradict yourself. In a courtroom, the stakes are high. Making a mistake in front of a judge and jury can cost you your freedom.

Your testimony may be helpful, but it might not be worth the cost of cross examination. Sometimes, your testimony only ends up hurting your case, exposing you to more suspicion.

If you’re considering testifying at trial, discuss your options with your attorney. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can help you understand the risks and benefits of your testimony and work with you to build a strong defense strategy.

Factors to Consider

If you’re considering testifying at trial, there are four important factors to keep in mind. Your case conditions, credibility, composure under pressure, and how convincing your testimony is to the court should all be taken into account when deciding whether or not to testify at trial.

Case Conditions

The courtroom can be an unpredictable place. Depending on your jury, your prosecutor, your judge, and your charges, the atmosphere in court may vary widely.

Most prosecutors are skilled at using cross examination against you, but how aggressive they are can change the value of your testimony. The temperament of the judge assigned to your case can also complicate your decision. If you have a compassionate, empathetic judge, testifying may help your case. If your assigned judge is strict and hardline, testifying may seriously damage your case.

Similarly, your jury may find your charges abhorrent or they may feel sympathetic towards you. It’s important to trust your attorney’s knowledge of your case and ability to read the jury when building your defense.


Defendant credibility is crucial to a successful defense. If the court doesn’t see you as credible and honest, they will not be inclined to believe your argument. Exposing your criminal history or accidentally contradicting yourself on the stand can be disastrous for your case.

If there’s a chance you may be cross examined on your criminal history or if you fear you cannot be entirely honest on the stand, testifying can be a serious gamble.

Composure on the Stand

If you’ve been charged with a crime, the pressure of the witness stand can be crushing. The best testimony is delivered honestly by a relatable, sympathetic witness who can stay composed even under aggressive questioning.

A seasoned prosecutor has many tools and tricks to break a witness’s composure. Even an innocent defendant can fall apart on the stand. The prosecutor will talk in circles around you, asking questions that may upset you, lead to an outburst, or open the door to damning testimony. Often, a safer choice is to bring on friends, family, and alibi witnesses to speak for the defendant.

Convincing the Court

The last factor to consider is how much value your testimony will bring to your case. Sometimes, defendant testimony humanizes them to the court, earning lighter sentences and winning over members of the jury. More often, it makes the prosecution’s job easier.

The defense doesn’t have to prove that you’re not guilty; it’s the prosecutor who must fulfill the burden of proof by showing, beyond reasonable doubt, that you committed the crime you have been charged with. Unfortunately, in the jury’s mind, it doesn’t always work out this way. If you appear on the stand, the jury may subconsciously lower their standard of proof. It becomes not a matter of proving your guilt, but a question of who the jury finds more convincing.

A compelling argument from the prosecution becomes all the more persuasive to a jury if they find you unsympathetic after a messy testimony.

Contact Harlan Protass for a Strong Defense

If you’re facing criminal charges, a defense lawyer can make all the difference. Harlan Protass has over two decades of experience defending his clients. He knows how to present your case to a fickle jury and build a strong defense for each client. No one should have to face the courts alone. With Protass Law, PLLC, you don’t have to.

Reach out to us online or call us at (212) 455-0335 to schedule your free consultation today.