Criminal Defense: The Right to Testify at a Criminal Trial

By Maynard & Sumner, LLC of Maynard & Sumner, LLC posted in Criminal Defense on Friday, October 5, 2012.

The criminal justice system is comprised by multiple levels, the Superior, Appellate, and Supreme courts. These different levels also act as a governing or checks-and-balances system to ensure individuals receive a fair hand at justice. The Superior Court cases are appealed to the Appellate Court, and Appellate Court cases are appealed to the Supreme Court. The nature of appeals can address any number of issues, from prosecutorial and judicial abuse to unconstitutionality of the law. In a recent case, State v. Cullen, the defendant appealed his conviction to the Appellate Court. The issue at hand was whether the judge abused his discretion by refusing to allow the defendant to testify in his own criminal defense (after he had previously waived that right) in the interest of expediency. The Appellate Division reviewed the case and determined the Superior Court judge erred in his decision, and therefore, reversed the decision and remanded it to the Superior Court.

In Cullen, the Appellate Court addressed the issue whether expediency takes precedents over a defendant’s right to testify. The Court looked to the writings of a past federal circuit judge to render its opinion:

Justice Potter Stewart, when a federal circuit judge, wrote that “[t]he prompt and vigorous administration of the criminal law is to be commended and encouraged [,] [b]ut swift justice demands more than just swiftness. . . . [N]o eagerness to expedite business, or to utilize fully the court’s time, should be permitted to interfere with our high duty of administering justice in the individual case.”

The Appellate Court stated that the right of an accused to testify at a criminal trial is rooted in the Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. Regardless of how a criminal trial progresses, a defendant’s right to testify is undeniable. The Appellate Division wrote:

The Court thus declared that “a criminal defendant is entitled to testify on his or her own behalf under Article I, paragraph 1 and 10 of our State Constitution.” . . . It requires no further burdening of this opinion to conclude that the right [Cullen] sought to exercise on the morning of the second trial day was not to be lightly disregarded.

If you have been charged with a crime, contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer to discuss your case and your defenses.

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