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Courtroom Decorum: When Defendants Should Speak

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For those who have been charged with a wrongful death, it is crucial to understand when is the best time to speak while in the courtroom. Decorum in the courtroom is critical to the overall outcome. Bad behavior, such as speaking out during testimony of witnesses, when an attorney is presenting evidence, or when the judge is speaking, is never an ideal situation, no matter how the information is perceived by the defendant. However, there are some times when the defendant is allowed to talk, including the following:

Entering a Plea

When the defendant is first brought before the judge, he or she will be asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. Before going to court, the defendant will make a decision regarding the plea with his or her attorney. Once in the court room, the defendant will be asked for their plea, which will be either guilty or not guilty. These are the only words that should be spoken at this time.

As a Witness

If the defendant will be testifying on his or her own behalf, this is another opportunity to speak while in court. During this time, the defendant will answer questions regarding the incident by both the defense attorney and the prosecutor. While the defense attorney may not advise a client to testify on the stand, the defendant has every right to do so. If the defendant chooses to testify, all questions should be answered as directly and succinctly as possible. He or she should not get overly detailed during this time and should only provide the answers to the questions that are asked. Avoid getting loud, angry, or emotional while on the stand, as this could cause a loss of composure and result in speaking out of term.

Speaking to the Judge or Victims

If the defendant is found guilty of a crime, the defendant will have an opportunity to speak to both the judge and the victim's family during the sentencing hearing. At this time, the defendant should have a written statement prepared, composed with the assistance of his or her attorney. During this time, the defendant can ask the judge for a lighter sentence or leniency. When speaking to the family of the victim, provide a sincere apology, an explanation, or words of remorse. The defendant should avoid yelling at the family and the judge during this time, as it can negate the possibility of getting leniency.

While defendants do have rights to speak during certain parts of the trial, most attorneys will advise against saying much of anything during the process. Speaking out of term could lead to self-incrimination, a major mistake if the goal is to convince the judge and jury that the defendant is not guilty.