Was Lynn’s testimony worth the gamble?

Today Monsignor William Lynn took the stand in his own defense – for the third day.  Lynn, a former high-ranking official in the Philadelphia Catholic Archdiocese, is facing charges for failing to prevent other priests from sexually abusing children. 

For defendants in criminal cases the impulse to take the stand in their own defense, can be strong.  But while they can help themselves on the stand, but they also can do damage.It’s a common scene in TV courtroom dramas: the defendant defiantly takes the stand to refute the prosecutor’s accusations.  Instead the character ends up in a teary mess confessing to the crime or exposing a secret that ID’s the real criminal.Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Dennis Cogan represented former State Senator Vince Fumo who was convicted of corruption.  Cogan said there’s always a risk in putting a client on the stand.”You don’t want him to perform, you don’t want the client on the witness stand to be making the arguments that the lawyer should be making later on,” said Cogan.  “You have to go over the methods and manner of presentation.”And Cogan said, that takes time.  “Lots of lawyers honestly – lawyers that I’ve talked to – don’t like doing it because it’s gut-wrenching and hard preparation to go through the potential areas of cross-examination and all the things that could be used against the client even if the client is telling the truth,” Cogan said.Cogan said sometimes lawyers try to talk a client out of it.  Philadelphia attorney Fortunato Perri Jr. said the lawyer doing the cross-examination too, takes a chance:”You always run the risk of crossing over that line — of being too harsh during cross-examination,” said Perri.  “It’s important to be an effective cross-examiner because it’s at that point that you’re able to tell your story.  I think a lot of cases are won or lost during that phase of the case.”It can also offer a chance to show off your skills: Perri’s cross-examination of Beanie Sigel made such an impression, that the rapper later hired him.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.