While watching television, you see a police officer place handcuffs on a suspect. The police officer proceeds to tell the suspect that he has the right to remain silent and that anything he says can and will be used against him in a court of law. Police officers on television and in real life offer these statements to comply with Supreme Court rulings enforcing the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. The Fifth Amendment states that no suspect "shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself."
You may be asking: when should a defendant "plead the fifth" and refuse to speak in a court proceeding? Is it ever detrimental to refuse to speak in a criminal case?
Is it Better to Remain Silent in a Criminal Proceeding?
The Supreme Court of the United States continues to affirm the Fifth Amendment right to refuse to testify on one’s own behalf in a criminal proceeding. While defendants certainly have a right to refuse to make a statement or testify, it may not always be the best strategic decision.
Defendants who testify in their defense in a criminal case must testify under oath. If the defendant knows that he or she will lie under oath and will not answer questions truthfully, refusing to take the stand may be the best option. Similarly, defendants who appear extremely hostile and unsympathetic might benefit from not testifying in their trial.
Those defendants who do testify in their defense must face cross-examination by a state prosecutor. Prosecutors are trained to find and expose weaknesses, biases, and inconsistencies in the defendant's testimony. When a defendant is not mentally or emotionally stable to hold up to cross-examination, it could be wise to refuse to testify. Nonetheless, a skilled criminal law attorney can coach a defendant to answer cross-examination questions posed by the prosecutor effectively.
A defendant’s testimony can be essential in some instances. Sympathetic defendants who provide compelling alibis and defenses can strengthen the defendant’s chances of receiving a not-guilty verdict. There is no such thing as a perfect testimony in a criminal defense case. With the advice of an experienced criminal defense attorney, a defendant’s testimony can be a powerful tool. One of the most compelling reasons to remain silent is that unlike the Courtroom where everything is out in the open to be seen and recorded, statements to police are just the opposite. They often are in areas where it is just the police and the suspect. No videos, not body cams. Nothing to correct something misheard or not written down correctly. Having an attorney present during those times is important to make sure that when they testify, what the authorities say you said in the interview actually is what you said.
It is Always Wise to Speak with an Attorney
At Glasgow & Olsson, our skilled criminal law attorneys have the experience and skill to represent clients at criminal trials assertively. We help our clients develop an effective trial strategy based on the facts of their case. If you are facing criminal charges and you are unsure whether or not you should testify on your behalf in court, we can help you determine the best step forward. Contact our Cook County criminal law attorneys today to discuss how we can help you in your case.
(image courtesy of JP Valery)