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By: Sydny Bryan

By: Sydny Bryan

Sydny Bryan is an Associate Attorney at WhitbeckBennett. Sydny graduated from the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law and then clerked for the Honorable John M. Tran in Fairfax Circuit Court. After her clerkship, she worked as an Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney at the Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney Office. To learn more about Ms. Bryan, click here.

Should I Take the Stand in My Own Defense?

 

[01.11.2022]

 

Recently we watched on national television as Kyle Rittenhouse testified in his own defense when facing five felony counts after he killed two people and wounded another in Wisconsin. Mr. Rittenhouse took the stand to testify and assert the affirmative defense of self-defense. Wisconsin’s self-defense law allows someone to use deadly force if they reasonably believe they are in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm. An affirmative defense is different from other defenses because it provides a justification for the defendant breaking the law. In other words, the defendant is claiming they had a good reason for breaking the law and therefore should not be held criminally liable. (Mr. Rittenhouse ultimately prevailed on his claim of self-defense; he did kill those individuals, but he was justified in doing so).  

The 6th Amendment gives a defendant in a criminal case the right “to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor.” This constitutional right referring to witnesses includes oneself, in layman’s terms, you have the right to testify in your own defense. However, just because you can does not always mean you should. Mr. Rittenhouse testified in his own order to provide evidence for his claim of self-defense. 

 

On the other hand, the 5th Amendment gives a defendant in a criminal case the right to not “be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” This amendment allows a criminal defendant the right to not testify in a criminal proceeding against him or herself. Furthermore, a defendant exercising this right cannot have it used against them. In the Rittenhouse trial, we saw the presiding judge admonish the prosecutor for challenging Mr. Rittenhouse as to why the first time he was telling his story was during the trial. Mr. Rittenhouse had exercised his right to remain silent up until that point and the prosecutor was out of line in challenging Mr. Rittenhouse on the stand for sharing his story for the first time.  

So you may be thinking if Mr. Rittenhouse can take the stand after shooting multiple people, shouldn’t I take the stand in my case which is not nearly as serious? Not necessarily. As previously discussed, Mr. Rittenhouse took the stand to provide evidence in his claim of self-defense. In your case, while you may feel your actions were justified and therefore excuse you from criminal liability, this is a very strategic decision that you should discuss with legal counsel. Sometimes what we can rationalize as justified in our own minds is simply not justified in the eyes of the law. Ultimately the decision to testify belongs to the individual defendant, an attorney can only offer legal counsel.  

Not only do we have skilled family law attorneys at WhitbeckBennett, but we also have several former prosecutors and public defenders who have handled an array of situations regarding one’s right to testify. We offer a unique perspective with years of experience to assess your individual situation and help you make the best decision.  

 

To learn how our team can help you, contact WhitbeckBennett by calling 800-516-3964 or emailing clientservices@wblaws.com.

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