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I was following that trial at Rutgers where the guy made a video of his gay roommate. I think he should have been punished but I wondered why he didn't take the stand in his own defense. I always wonder that when I see the defense team refusing to put the defendant on the stand. Why do they do that?

 
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Defendant to testify

Interesting case.  First, just to clarify, it is always the defendant's decision whether to take the stand or not. If he wishes to testify, he has that right, and nobody can stop him. However, the defendant would be foolish to ignore the advice of his counsel on this matter.  The attorney is more objective and much better able to see any potential problems that might come from having the defendant take the stand. 

When making the decision of whether to advise the client to testify or not, the attorney will consider a host of issues, some obvious and some not.  In some cases, after spending some time with the defendant, the attorney and defense team may decide that the defendant simply does not present well.  The fear is that if the jury gets to know the defendant, they may not like what they find.  That is not a good thing for a criminal defendant.  We are all human. Sometimes, even if we do not realize it, or 'impartiality" can be clouded by our feelings about a particular person.

Then there is the risk factor.  Sometimes a defendant can say something on the stand, without the attorney's for-knowledge, that "opens the door" for other, damning testimony to come in.  Direct examination by the defendant's attorney is one thing, but once the prosecutor gets up there and starts rattling the defendant's cage, you never know what might pop out of his mouth.  For example, even if the judge has ruled, before the defendant takes the stand, that his past criminal history, say an arrest for possession of drugs, or drug abuse is not admissible, that can change if the defendant volunteers testimony regarding that drug use.  At that point, the court may rule that the defendant opened the door to that line of questioning.

As a final example of the issues involved, if the defendant does not take the stand, with some exceptions, his criminal history is not relevant.  But once he becomes a witness, if the nature of his criminal history calls his credibility into question, then that history may become relevant.  So, every case is different, and every decision regarding whether to testify or not will be different.  My best advice:  Get an experienced criminal defense attorney, someone who has been before a few juries and knows her way around the court.

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