Month: July 2019

In a criminal case every defendant has a right not to testify. Deciding whether to exercise the defendants right to testify is the sole legal responsibility of the defendant (although seeking professional legal counsel is advisable). Regardless of whether or not criminal defendants choose to take the stand, it is important to know one’s rights. The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides that no person shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself or herself. In other words, a defendant is under no legal obligation to testify at his or her trial, by invoking his amendment right against self-incrimination.

How To Properly Prepare the Jury For Defendant Testimony

If the defendant exercises his or her right not to take the stand, the trial judge must instruct the jury not to hold this decision against the defendant. Further, the judge must advise the jury that it would be improper to speculate as to the reason for the defendants waiver and expressly instruct the jury not to assume the defendant is guilty because he or she chose not to testify. If a defendant chooses not to testify at trial, the judge conducts a “Boyd” inquiry. Essentially, while on record, the judge asks the non-testifying defendant whether or not he/she knows that he/she has both the right to testify and the right not to. The judge must ensure that the defendant has voluntarily, and intelligently, waived the right to testify.

What About The Fifth Amendment?

In addition to the defendants constitutional right not to testify at trial, the Fifth Amendment protects any self-incriminating statements that the defendant makes prior to trial from being admissible in court. Such statements can only be admitted at trial if certain constitutional and statutory requirements have been met. For a confession or incriminating statement to be admissible at trial the prosecution must prove that the statement was (i) given freely and voluntarily, (ii) that the defendant was given proper warnings regarding his or her rights prior to the statement, and (iii) that the defendant properly waived his or her right to remain silent.
A finding that a self-incriminating statement was coerced or that the defendant’s will was overborne will result in the statement being excluded at trial for lack of voluntariness. For example, if law enforcement subjects a defendant to 36 hours of continuous questioning without sleep, his/her confession will not be considered free and voluntary because the circumstances under which it was given were inherently coercive. Moreover, police must advise people of their Miranda rights before interrogating them otherwise any evidence gathered during the interrogation will be inadmissible at trial. Finally, the defendant can expressly waive his/her right to remain silent by signing a statement or the defendant may verbally state that they are waiving their right. An implied waiver of this right occurs when the defendant begins talking and continues until he/she expressly invokes his/her Miranda rights.

The Potential Benefits of Testifying

A defendant that does choose to take the witness stand may benefit, or suffer, from testifying at their trial. On the one hand, the defendant’s testimony can provide perspective and clarity to a story that might otherwise be very one-sided or missing important information. On the other hand, choosing to testify means that the defendant will be subject to cross examination by the prosecution. Cross-examination is nerve-racking because prosecutors are trained to draw out information even from well-prepared defendants. Additionally, if the defendant has any prior convictions the prosecutor may use these to undermine the defendant’s credibility as a source of reliable testimony. The decision whether or not to testify in one’s own trial is an important one which should always be made under the guidance of a licensed attorney. For more information from a Washington DC criminal defense attorney please contact our office.

As of January 2019, The District’s Youth Rehabilitation Act (YRA) increased the age range for youth adult offenders from 22 to under 25 years of age. This increase will allow more youth, first time offenders to cash in on the benefits of expungement that this amended act entails.

What is the YRA?

In 1985, the Youth Rehabilitation Act was created in the District of Columbia. The YRA aims to provide sentencing alternatives to first time young adult offenders. The YRA gives arrested youth offenders charged with a crime the ability to have their case sealed after successfully completing the requirements mandated. The newly amended act, which includes an age increase, also includes new conditions the offenders must meet in order to receive the sentence from the YRA. The new condition that must be met include no fewer than 90 hours of community service to a government agency in the District, a non-profit, or a community service organization. The offender must test negative on drugs screens. Both requirements must be met and completed for the offender to receive a sentence from the Youth Rehabilitation Act.

The benefit of the Youth Rehabilitation Act is priceless for offenders that have committed their first crime. The ability to seal a case almost immediately after the offender has been sentenced is extremely valuable for reintegration back into the community, and one of the key goals of the criminal justice. Many offenders convicted of a crime would be required by law to reveal to future employers, among others, their criminal record. Once the case is sealed, first time offenders would no longer have to indicate that they have criminal record because this information would no longer be available to the public per statute. Having the ability to seal cases for first time offenders give those the ability to break the never-ending cycle of reentering the criminal justice system.

Realities of the YRA

While the benefit of the YRA is unquestionable, not every case that is eligible under the YRA is granted. According to The District’s Youth Rehabilitation Act: An Analysis Briefing Document performed by the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, of the 5,166 YRA-eligible cases open from 2010-2012 about 60 percent received the YRA sentence (McCann). The reason for this disparity is based on the approximate fourteen factors that are taken into consideration for each offender on a case-by-case basis. There are many factors that might affect an offender’s eligibility to receive the benefits from the Youth Rehabilitation Act ranging from reports of physical, mental, and psychiatric examinations to the victim’s impact statements. In addition to the many factors that might the ability for offenders to receive a sentence from the YRA, often times the offender is unable to complete the requirements given to them by the court. Of the limited number of people that are eligible for the YRA, only a portion of said people actually complete the conditions.

Overall, while there are many limits put forth to restrict the number of people that are eligible and, that actually complete the requirements, this is all to ensure that people who are given this second chance opportunity are serious. Our criminal justice system typically focuses primarily on key goals such as deterrence, retribution, and incapacitation for the victim and secondarily on retribution of the offender. Once a person commits a crime, often times they are stuck in a never-ending cycle of jail and crime because of the current laws that impact felons. The Youth Rehabilitation Act is the first step in moving to the correct direction in creating a criminal justice that works to rehabilitate offenders rather than incarcerate.

Contact An Experienced Defense Attorney

If you are under the age of 25 and charged with a criminal offense in the District of Columbia, it is vital you contact a DC criminal defense attorney that is familiar with all of your options to avoid a permanent conviction on your record.

 

McCann, Ellen P. THE DISTRICT’S YOUTH REHABILITATION ACT: An Analysis Briefing Document. Criminal Justice Coordinating Council for the District of Columbia

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