No, you do not have to testify if you are facing criminal charges in North Carolina. Taking the stand may not be in your best interest if you take your case to a jury trial. You should never make a decision about whether to defend yourself by testifying without first consulting with an experienced criminal defense lawyer.
Your Right to Not Testify in a North Carolina Criminal Case
When deciding whether to testify, you must understand your rights under the United States Constitution. You have a constitutional right to remain silent and not testify when you are a defendant in a criminal case in North Carolina. When instructing the jury before they deliberate, the judge must instruct them of this right and that your silence cannot be held against you by them to infer that you are guilty.
In addition, you are presumed innocent in a criminal case whether or not you testify. The prosecutor must prove each element of the crime you are accused of committing beyond a reasonable doubt—which is a hard standard of proof to meet.
Reasons Not to Testify at Your Jury Trial
You may want to take the stand and tell the jury your side of the story. This is especially true if you have been falsely accused of committing the crime or believe there were extenuating circumstances that might justify or explain your actions.
However, even in these situations, testifying may be a big mistake. No matter how well you prepare in advance, something could go wrong that can hurt your case. Here are important reasons to remain silent at your trial to consider when deciding whether to testify.
#1: It Is Unnecessary
It might not be necessary for you to testify because your testimony would not really help in your defense. Your lawyer may decide that the best strategy is to use the testimony of other witnesses and other evidence to defend you. They may also believe poking holes in the prosecutor’s case against you that raises reasonable doubt about your guilt will help you more than your own testimony.
#2: The Jury May Not Perceive You Favorably
It is extremely stressful to be charged with committing a crime in North Carolina. You may experience increased stress if you are going through a criminal trial. Even if you are innocent, you may appear nervous, upset, or agitated when testifying.
While having these feelings may be normal, the jury could weigh them more than your words if you testify. Here are some ways this could hurt your chances of being found not guilty:
- If you behave nervously, the jury could think that you are not being truthful or are hiding something from them.
- If you appear agitated, angry, or emotional while on the stand, the jury may perceive you as unstable. In addition, if you are too emotional, the jury could think you are faking it and not believe what you are saying.
- The jury could perceive you as cold, unfeeling, and unlikeable if you do not express any emotions when testifying. This could influence their verdict.
#3: The Prosecutor Would Cross-Exam You
The prosecutor cannot force you to take the stand if you do not testify voluntarily. However, if you testify in your defense, they have the right to cross-exam you.
Prosecutors are often skilled in cross-examining defendants. The prosecutor in your case could ask you confusing questions to get you to make a statement that helps their case. No matter how careful you are, you could make an incriminating admission.
They would also ask you difficult questions about your testimony to try to discredit it. If you have a prior criminal record, they may be able to use this against you during cross-examination. In addition, they could purposely try to make you upset or angry in hopes that this will damage the jury’s perception of you.
Are You Looking for a Criminal Defense Lawyer in Charlotte, NC?
If you are facing criminal charges, you need to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Charlotte office directly at 980.207.3355 to schedule your free consultation.