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If you have been arrested and charged with a crime, you cannot be forced to testify in your own case. The burden is on the prosecutor to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. You can remain silent, and in many cases, it is wise to do so. When you choose to testify, the prosecutor has an opportunity to cross-examine or impeach you, and can use your testimony to incriminate you and further her case. If you are contemplating going to trial, an experienced Tampa criminal defense attorney can assess your situation and help you make a strategic, well-informed decision about whether to testify.


Most Americans know from pop culture that they have a right not to answer police questions while in custody. The Fifth Amendment protects you from having to incriminate yourself in custody, but also in court while on trial. You have the right to remain silent at trial and can’t be compelled to serve as a witness against yourself at the behest of the prosecutor or judge or even your own attorney.

If you decide you take the stand, however, you can’t choose to answer some questions and not others. You are required to answer all of them, including questions intended to make you look dishonest or to paint you as a serial criminal. After you’ve decided to testify in your own case, you are considered to have waived the Fifth Amendment right for the whole trial. The jury is not supposed to take your refusal to testify into consideration when determining whether you are guilty.


You should talk to your lawyer about whether it makes sense to testify in your own case. Always be aware that the prosecutor is not your attorney. You cannot trust the prosecutor to do what you think is right. Your own lawyer has a duty of loyalty towards you, and can provide recommendations about whether you are a good candidate to testify on your own behalf.

There are a number of ways in which you have to be particularly careful when testifying on the stand. When the prosecutor asks you a question, it is crucial to listen carefully and only answer if you understand the question. You can request to have confusing questions rephrased rather than answering a question that isn’t clear to you. It’s also important to only answer the question you’re being asked. Often witnesses on the stand give answers that provide details they weren’t asked, and such answers may allow the prosecutor to see an angle he or she missed. When you’re questioned by your own attorney, keep in mind that your attorney may be avoiding asking you a question or asking questions in a certain way in order to avoid certain subjects or answers.

Throughout direct examination and cross-examination, the prosecutor will be alert to possible inconsistencies in testimony. You may be questioned further or made to look bad if there are inconsistencies or places within the testimony where you answered differently at different times.


The prosecutor may try to impeach you, or raise doubts about whether you are credible. When you testify, your credibility is at issue just as other witnesses’ credibility is at issue when they testify. As a means of impeaching you, a prosecutor can raise prior criminal convictions involving dishonesty or that were punishable by incarceration for more than a year or death. Upon learning about these past convictions, the jury might infer that not only are you dishonest, but also that you committed the crime at issue.


Testifying in your own case in Tampa is a serious strategic decision that can have substantial consequences. If you’ve been charged with a crime, it is wise to consult and hire a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney who understands how to present your defense, and who can evaluate whether you should go to trial or seek a pleadeal. Our founder and principal Will Hanlon has defended the accused since 1994, and has significant trial experience. Please contact us at 813-228-7095 or via our online form.