Testifying in a Murder or Felonious Assault Case – Could it win you your freedom?
Many criminal defense attorneys do not advocate defendants taking the stand in their own defense, particularly when they are on trial for murder or serious assaultive cases. At Miel & Carr, we recognize that the decision to have a client testify has to be made on a case-by-case basis, but our general preference is to have our client testify if at all possible.
The most important skill our trial lawyers possess is the ability to tell our client’s real story to the jury. In cases where clients are accused of assault or murder, that story can often involve facts that would indicate that the client acted in self-defense, or that the client was not the person who committed the act. Testimony of the client is often the most effective way to tell their side of the story.
However, in cases where a client’s life is on the line, and they are potentially facing years in prison, we don’t simply throw someone on the stand to be devoured by a hungry prosecutor. Testifying in any criminal case requires significant preparation.
First, we spend a great deal of time discovering the story of our client. In doing so, we utilize psychodramatic techniques, including reenacting events, to gain an understanding of the realities and emotions underlying the event. It is important to us, in order to successfully convey the client’s story to a jury, that we understand not only what happened, but what the client and others in the situation were feeling.
Additionally, one of the tools that we frequently utilize in preparing a client to testify is a focus group. We only have one chance to present our client’s case to a jury, and it can be extremely helpful to have one or more “practice runs” in front of a focus group before presenting our case at trial. Focus groups can be helpful in pointing out troublesome mannerisms, use of language, and other problems that make the client’s story less credible. This allows us to work with the client to adjust the issues that may create problems in front of a jury.
Finally, we spend a significant amount of time preparing a client for cross-examination by the prosecuting attorney. Skilled prosecutors can bury a defendant with an effective cross-examination. Allowing a client to go in to testimony unprepared to meet a brutal cross-examination would be a disaster for the client’s case. We give our clients clear ground-rules that assist them in getting through even the most skillful cross-examination by the prosecutor without allowing the jury to lose sight of the client’s real story.
Again, we make the decision about a client testifying on a case-by-case basis, but it is certainly our preference to allow the jury to hear the client’s story in their own words if at all possible. We have found that the ability to facilitate successful testimony by a client can make a difference between a guilty and a not guilty verdict, between the client going to prison or walking out of the courtroom with us a free man or woman.
If you or a loved one is charged with murder or another assaultive crime, call the trusted and experienced trial attorneys at (616) 773-2945 discuss how we might help you defend your case.