RIght to Testify at Trial is Absolute - Darren Chaker

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
By Darren Chaker -- The right to testify in a criminal trial is absolute, but not always advisable. Refusal of trial counsel to honor that right can lead to reversal of any subsequent conviction, but keep in mind testifying may lead the Defendant's conviction as well.

Submitted: December 09, 2010

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Submitted: December 09, 2010



Right to Testify at Trial is Absolute
By Darren Chaker
The right to testify has multiple constitutional underpinnings. The United States Supreme Court has held “there is no rational justification for prohibiting the sworn testimony of the accused, who above all others may be in a position to meet the prosecution's case.” ( Ferguson v. Georgia, supra, 365 U S. at p. 582 ) “A defendant's opportunity to conduct his own defense by calling witnesses is incomplete if he may not present himself as a witness ...” ( Rock v. Arkansas, supra, 483 U.S. at p. 52.) Thus, “[t]his right [to offer testimony] reaches beyond the criminal trial: the procedural due process constitutionally required in some extrajudicial proceedings includes the right of the affected person to testify.” ( Rock v. Arkansas, supra, 483 U.S at p 51.)

Preventing a defendant from testifying at his own trial deprives a defendant of these “basic protections, ... [without which] ... a criminal trial cannot reliably serve its function as a vehicle for determination of guilt or innocence, [citation], and no criminal punishment may be regarded as fundamentally fair.” ( Rose v Clark (1986) 478 U.S. 570, 577-578 [106 S.Ct. 3101, 92 L.Ed.2d 460].) “No matter how daunting the task, the accused therefore has the right to face jurors and address them directly without regard to the probabilities of success. As with the right of self-representation, denial of the accused's right to testify is not amenable to harmless-error analysis. The right ‘is either respected or denied; its deprivation cannot be harmless.’ ” ( State v. Dauzart, supra, 769 S.2d at pp. 1210-1211, citing McKaskle v Wiggins (1984) 465 U.S. 168, 177, fn. 8 [104 S.Ct. 944, 79 L.Ed.2d 122].).

Consequently, adefense attorneys failure to allow his client the right to testify is subject to automatic reversal or is governed under a Chapman v. California (1967) 386 U.S. 18, 24 [87 S.Ct. 824, 17 L.Ed.2d 705] ( Chapman) standard of review. ( People v. Johnson (1998) 62 Cal.App.4th 608, 634-636 [applying Chapman]; People v. Hayes (1991) 229 Cal.App.3d 12261, 1234, fn. 11 [same]; People v. Harris (1987) 191 Cal.App.3d 819, 826 [applying automatic reversal])

In sum, although the right to testify is absolute, keep in mind it is not always advisable. Sometimes a Defendant has no choice but explain his conduct in the hope a jury will will believe him. Often enough, a seriel Defendant has criminalconvictions that a jury would not know about unless the Defendant testifies, or doens't have proper court demeanor in the sense both venacular and the art of persuasion through decent people skills will not be conveyed to the jury.A Defendant may not see the tactical advantage of embracing his attorneys choice and refuse to simply stay quiet, look humble, and unswayed by what the state has to offer in support of guilt. However, if the Defendant insists to invoking his right to 'tell his side of the story' the next person he may tell it to is his cell mate.

© Copyright 2019 Darren Chaker. All rights reserved.

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