Attorney with the Gasper Law Group
The Basics: In the courtroom
We’ll start with the most classic examples, and work our way into some things you may not have thought about. For now, we’ll assume a criminal case has actually been filed by the DA, negotiations have not been fruitful, all pretrial issues have been determined, and now, your trial before a jury has begun. Do you testify in your own defense, or do you invoke your 5th amendment right to remain silent? Each case is different, and your attorney will advise you at every step of the way, but ultimately, you must make that choice. And during your trial, the judge will ask you personally which choice you have made. No one can make you testify if you’d prefer not to. Likewise, no one, not even your own attorney, the judge, or the DA, can prevent you from telling your side of the story to the jury if you really want to (but often, it could wind up being a very bad idea). Critical, tactical and personal issues will influence your decision (a topic for another day), but we’ll decide for this example that you don’t want to testify.
What happens? Remember, since the DA has the burden of proving you guilty, they must present sufficient evidence during the first ‘half’ of the trial to prove you guilty of the charge before your team (you, your attorney(s), and investigator or paralegal, if needed) has to present anything. Once the DA rests their portion of the case (likely consisting of eye witnesses, police officers, exhibits, and possibly expert witnesses), there will be a break in the trial for at least a few minutes. The jury will be excused from the room. Without you having to say a word, your attorney will be given the opportunity to argue before the judge that the DA’s case is legally insufficient to convict on one or more of the charges. Although it rarely occurs, if the judge does agree, you could then be acquitted by the judge on the spot, and the jury would not even get the case. Game over. This might occur if the DA was unable (or forgot, if you get really lucky) to present any credible evidence of an essential element of the charge; for example perhaps the DA showed that you were drunk at the time you were operating a motor vehicle (see CJA’s article), but failed to show it was in a public place. If it occurred on purely private property (and the DA must show that it did not), then you don’t even have to decide whether to testify or not. You go home. (Be careful celebrating your win afterwards!)