In any criminal trial no defendant is required to testify. This is the foundation of the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as no person shall be compelled to be a witness against themselves.
In Florida - as in all states - the same rule obviously applies. However, Florida’s jury instructions will tell the jurors that a defendant’s choice not to testify cannot be used against them as an admission of guilt. On the other hand, if a defendant does choose to testify in their own trial, their testimony will be evaluated the same as that of any other witness.
Defendant’s do not get special treatment just because they are defendants.
In the George Zimmerman trial, Zimmerman decided - in conjunction with the advice of his attorneys - not to testify.
Was this a wise decision?
In a self-defense case, it seems plausible that the defendant should tell their own side of the story. After all, the defense isn’t claiming a mere lack of evidence. They are claiming an affirmative defense: George Zimmerman DID shoot and kill Trayvon Martin but under Florida law, that lethal shooting was justifiable.
However, the state carries the burden of proof therefore the defense is not required to present any of their own evidence.
Nevertheless, jurors are human beings and naturally want to hear both sides of the story. It is my experience, though, that jurors take their oaths and instructions seriously and will not hold a defendant’s silence against them.
By not testifying, Zimmerman did not open himself up to cross-examination. Under cross, minor inconsistencies and contradictions with the evidence presented would be brought to light. Every word that he uttered in relation to this case (and even beyond that) would be scrutinized.
For instance, if Zimmerman said one thing back in February of 2012 and then - due to the passage of time - did not recall what he had said or said something slightly different - Zimmerman would be called a liar by the prosecution.
Also, with all the introduction of Zimmerman’s audio-recorded statements and statements made to law enforcement and witnesses, his story was as good as told.
I believe that Zimmerman made a wise choice by not testifying and the jury must consider the case based solely on the evidence presented.
I predict a not guilty verdict or a guilty-lesser of manslaughter. There is no chance in the world that the evidence supports a charge of second-degree murder.