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Should I Testify At My Own OUI Trial?

When clients take the stand and testify at their OUI trial, it is more likely to hurt the trial than to help it. Now, anyone charged with a crime, has a constitutional right to take the stand and give their side of the story at a trial. However, there are many disadvantages to taking the stand, and usually it is not in the client's best interest, and I don't recommend it.

For one thing, many people just donít make good witnesses. They are very nervous about the situation and they are really upset about what happened.  It is the first time that they have gone through this stressful experience and they are simply unfamiliar with the process. sometimes the fact that they look uncomfortable makes them appear to look dishonest. 

Secondly, when a person takes the stand they are being cross-examined by a prosecutor who likely has a lot of practice and skill at making people appear guilty. so it is not fair fight in that sense. 

I personally have ended up testifying twice in criminal cases and while I am pretty familiar with being at the other end of things and questioning people, I was actually incredibly nervous and awkward being on the witness stand. I made a terrible witness on the stand both times. 

So I wouldnít take it as personal insult that somebody that I donít think somebody would make a good witness.

Are There Ever Times When It Makes Sense to Take The Stand in My Own Defense?

Yes, there are some situations when it probably does makes sense to take the stand. If the case isnít very good, and the facts don't look good and I don't think we have a great chance to win otherwise, I may be me more inclined to taking the riskier approach to putting my client on the stand.

If the client has something I think very helpful or useful to say that we arenít going to be able to present any other way,  then that leans in favor of having the client take the stand. Maybe there is a specific fact about the situation or arrest that might not look good if we can't explain it away, and the witness stand might be the only opportunity to clarify something that I think might concern the jury.

But there is always a significant risk in taking the stand, and subjecting yourself to cross-examination. If the defendant makes a mistake while testifying, that alone may sink the case. 

I had a case a number of years ago where my client was charged with Operating under the Influence of Alcohol, and the police report didnít say anything about her having an odor of alcohol.

What happened the morning of the arrest was that her boyfriend had raised her voice to her and gotten angry. She had been hospitalized in the past, because her ex-husband had beaten her quite severely and broken several of her bones. Due to her history or being abused, she was so upset she had taken a couple of pills.

She was saying that she was not impaired by alcohol, she had taken some prescription medication, and while she was doing this she was clearly so upset that she started crying.  She made a very effective witness because we wouldnít have been able to get that out so the jury would know about it any other way. And the fact that she was so upset and crying made it very difficult for the prosecution to cross examine her without looking like an insensitive jerk. 

So it is a case by case decision, there are some cases where it makes sense. But in general, there are good reasons to be wary about taking the stand.    

Russell Matson is the founding attorney of The Law Offices of Russell J. Matson, PC a criminal defense law firm in Massachusetts. His web site is http://madrunk.pdxids.com.

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