If I do not have any witnesses who will testify on my behalf, can I still win at trial?
Yes. Defendants often go to trial without having anyone testify for them. This strategy allows the defendant’s lawyer to focus on cross-examining the prosecution witnesses in order to poke holes in the prosecutor’s case thereby creating reasonable doubt. Defense attorneys rely on a variety of arguments to discredit the prosecutor’s witnesses. Some common arguments include:
Prosecution witnesses are biased against the defendant and therefore are lying or grossly exaggerating.
Prosecution witnesses are mistaken in their observations because the lighting was bad, they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol or they were too far away.
Evidence from police laboratories is unreliable because the machines were not properly maintained or the technicians were not properly trained.
Prosecution witnesses are lying to get a good deal on the criminal charges they themselves are facing (witnesses are often criminals who have been offered a deal if they testify against the defendant).
What these arguments have in common is that they do not depend on defense evidence. Rather, they rely on the presumption of innocence and prosecutor’s failure to overcome it by proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
I am confused about why a defendant would choose to not testify. If I were innocent, why wouldn’t I want to take the stand and tell my story?
A criminal defendant has a right not to testify, and jurors will be told that they cannot assume anything negative if the defendant decides to keep quiet. Of course, some jurors do make assumptions-and they cast their votes accordingly. On the other hand, there are some excellent reasons why a defendant might remain silent in court:
If the defendant has previously been convicted of a crime, the prosecutor may be able to bring this fact out-but only if the defendant testifies. Evidence of a previous crime may cause some jurors to think that the defendant is guilty of the current crime, too.
If the defendant testifies, the prosecutor may be able to bring out other information that tarnishes the defendant’s reputation and discredits his testimony.
Some defendants have a poor demeanor when speaking in public. A judge or jury may not believe a defendant who, though telling the truth, is a nervous witness and makes a bad impression.
The defendant may have a perfectly good story which would nevertheless sound fishy to the average jury in that particular locale.
What is “self-defense” and how can a defendant prove it?
Self-defense is a common defense asserted by someone charged with a crime of violence, such as battery (striking someone), assault with a deadly weapon or murder. The defendant admits that she did in fact commit the crime, but claims that it was justified by the other person’s threatening actions. The core issues in most self-defense cases are:
Who was the aggressor? Was the defendant’s belief that self-defense was necessary a reasonable one?
If so, was the force used by the defendant also reasonable?
Self-defense is rooted in the belief that people should be allowed to protect themselves from physical harm. This means that a person does not have to wait until she is actually struck to act in self-defense. If a reasonable person would think that she is about to be physically attacked, she has the right to strike first and prevent the attack. But she cannot use more force than is reasonable-if she does, she may be guilty of a crime.