I am telling the story of a federal criminal case I was in many years ago.
I had been told by many people that the Government had to find me guilty and that I didn’t need to prove my innocence. I didn’t believe it when I heard it and as time passed, I believed it less and less. There was nothing that crossed my path that supported the idea that I didn’t have to do everything imaginable to defend myself. There was nothing that happened that made me the slightest bit confident that the truth was being sought or that it would be exposed.
There were a few jabs that I heard the prosecutor make during his part of the trial to try and see if I would testify. We would all gather at the Bench from time to time for some confidential guidance from the Judge and the prosecutor would try his intimidation tactics on me or my attorney. I don’t think he understood that I was going to testify no matter what. The way “they” thought about me testifying is that they would be able to trip me up. Expose me. Get me to say something that will prove I am guilty. I knew what happened, I knew what didn’t happen and I knew who I was. I was by no means infallible, but I wasn’t intimidated at the notion the prosecutor was going to ask me questions when I testified.
The way I thought about testifying is that if the jury is in a position to judge my character, they should hear from me. Additionally, my perspective was that regardless of the jury’s response, I had to do whatever I could to get the truth out. Testifying was one of the very few opportunities I had.
Testifying. There are so many things that the jury is observing as you approach the witness chair, You don’t know what subtleties will make a difference or not. There is a certain look that you should have. Not too casual and not too serious. Don’t smile much, it makes you look somewhat desperate. Watch your body language. The tone of your voice. The way you carry yourself. The eye contact. Glances at the jury. A glimpse at my family. Your word selection. How quickly do you answer a question? Any gestures. If the prosecutor asks you something that is “wrong”, do you argue and risk appearing difficult. Do you answer a question completely? Do you answer with as few words as possible? How much ambiguity do you offer? If you need help, do you turn to the Judge? If the prosecutor asks two questions at a time, do you answer both? If the prosecutor starts to get to you, do you request a recess? So, much to consider when all you want to do is expose the truth.
Do you promise to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you God? “YES”. Silently, I wished everyone was truly held to that standard. Everyone in that Courtroom should have had to be completely forthcoming and honest. What a different case that would be!
It was time to take the stand. My name was called and I walked directly to the witness stand. I know it sounds crazy, but I had a short skip with one step. I was so anxious to get there.
The road to testifying was unknown. I had to listen carefully to what was being asked and answer it with as much respect, information and candor as I could. That was what I was going to do.
How did I get here? What kind of crazy life was I living that I was testifying in a federal criminal trial? Every now and then, these questions would pop into my head. It didn’t make sense to dwell on it. I had to deal with it and every far-reaching effect that it had on my life. It would bother me when anyone would say something to my children about the case. They weren’t in the case and whatever I was going through with the case, it had nothing to do with them. That was probably the only time when I would become quite animated.
I wanted to learn from what was happening. I learned more than I ever could have imagined from the US criminal justice system, but I did learn about myself in ways that mostly pleased me. The truth was that important to me. My faith was that important to me. Fear and being uncomfortable weren’t as bad as I thought.
My friends were not sure what to think of me testifying. Nobody would tell me not to do it. Nobody would tell me to testify either. I didn’t ask anyone if they thought I should testify. Having a conversation about it seemed like a losing proposition for all of us. Most people who knew me well thought that I would testify. They knew that I didn’t want to have any regrets about standing up for myself the best that I could.