Here's an example of how a defendant's decision to testify on the stand can backfire. Lynne Stewart, a zealous criminal defense attorney, is being prosecuted for allegedly helping her client, the "Blind Shiekh" (responsible in part for the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993), communicate with his followers; the idea being that the communications exhorted his followers to engage in more violence. This is a very touchy case, because on the one hand, defense lawyers shouldn't get a pass from prosecution if they are helping their clients engage in terrorism, but on the other hand, prosecuting defense attorneys can't help but have a chilling effect on the zealous advocacy that our criminal justice system assumes.
Anyway, on cross-examination, Stewart had the following things to say:
Under questioning in federal court, Lynne Stewart said violence was necessary to reverse an "entrenched ferocious type of capitalism" that breeds sexism and racism. She said civilians must not be targeted, but left unclear what kind of violence she meant.
"I'm talking about a popular revolution," Stewart said. "I'm talking about institutions being changed and that will not be changed without violence."
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When U.S. Attorney Andrew Dember pressed Stewart to explain what types of institutions she believed must be attacked, Stewart said the American Revolution was accomplished through violence and that the Civil War brought about an end to slavery in the U.S.
"We're not in those times yet," she said. "People will make the right decision about which to attack."
The former school teacher and librarian added, "The New York City Board of Education could be one to attack." The remark received chuckles around the courtroom.
Stewart said violence that harms innocent people sometimes is unavoidable, even in Iraq.
"You can't always separate out the combatants from the noncombatants," she said.
I can't imagine that testimony such as this will make a favorable impression on a New York jury. And while I think I understand the judge's reasoning for allowing the questioning (it relates to the type of violence that the indictment charges some of the suspects of planning), it could be an issue on appeal.