As a defendant in a criminal trial, you have the right to testify or to forego testifying. You also have the right to call the witnesses whom you want and refrain from calling witnesses whom you don’t want on the stand. All of these decisions are made based upon carefully considering the overall strategic “pluses” and “minuses” of each choice. However, what happens when someone who seems like a key witness for the defense is never called to the stand? In some situations, a judge can instruct the jury to infer that the non-testifying non-witness would have given testimony harmful to the defense had she taken the stand. The set of circumstances in which a judge can give this jury instruction is extremely narrow, though, and improperly giving such an instruction can result in a reversal of any conviction. When it comes to all of these strategic trial choices, it pays to have a knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense attorney representing you.
In one recent case from Baltimore, the judge did give that instruction, and the giving of the instruction allowed the defendant to obtain a reversal of his conviction. The man on trial was Jerry, who stood accused of several crimes related to a home break-in and robbery. There was actually very little evidence tying Jerry to the crimes. The only thing the state had was latent fingerprint evidence on pill bottles found at the home that matched fingerprints on file for Jerry.
Jerry testified in the trial. He asserted that he wasn’t involved and had not been at the scene of the crimes. Jerry asserted that, at the time that the crimes took place, he was at home with his mother. In the defense opening statement, Jerry’s attorney stated that the mother would testify and would state that Jerry was at home with her. Jerry’s mom, however, did not testify for the defense.