Mouth taken by Pickersgill Reef
You are charged with a crime in Massachusetts. You don’t want to plead to your case and now it is time for trial. One of the questions that you may have is if you should testify at your own trial. There is no definite right or wrong answer to the question of whether you should testify. Each case is unique and this question should be discussed and answered by you and your lawyer. However, here are a few things to think about when thinking about testifying at your own trial.
In Massachusetts, in any criminal case, the prosecutor also known as the Commonwealth has the burden to prove the case. The Commonwealth must prove that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In a Massachusetts criminal trial, you don’t have a burden to do anything. You are not guilty until you are proven innocent. In fact, there is no such thing as the jury finding you innocent. The jury in a MA criminal trial has an option to either find you guilty or not guilty. You are innocent of any charges unless and until the Commonwealth proves its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
Aside from the Commonwealth having the burden to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, the Commonwealth cannot force you to testify. You can sit there and refuse to say a word and make the Commonwealth prove its case against you. You are under no obligation to help the Commonwealth in anyway. You do have a right to testify in your case if you choose to do so. Depending on the facts of your case, you may want to testify, but ultimately this should be a decision made by you and your attorney.
If you don’t decide to testify, the jury cannot take your silence as any indication of guilt. Most Massachusetts judges upon request will read jury instructions telling the jury to not hold your silence against you. If you choose to not testify in your case, the Commonwealth is not allowed to use your silence at trial as an argument in its case. Even with these safeguards there may be a risk that jurors hold biases towards a defendant that does not testify.
You absolutely have a constitutional right to testify in your Massachusetts criminal case. However, it may not always be the best strategy to testify depending on the facts of the case. In any criminal case, it is important that you work with your lawyer to create an aggressive defense.