Not testifying common for Ill. politicians

July 21, 2010 (CHICAGO)

Rod Blagojevich now has something else in common with his predecessor. Both he and George Ryan found themselves in the crosshairs of federal prosecutors. And both men went back on pledges to testify in their own defense.

In 2006, Ryan's attorney Dan Webb said, "I recommended to George Ryan that he not testify because the government has not proven its case. And because it hasn't proven its case, I did not think it's fair to George Ryan to testify."

Most defendants who find themselves in federal court chose not to testify and rely instead on their lawyers and other witnesses to make their case. But politicians accused of wrong doing while in office may be held to a different standard.

"I think jury human nature is you want to hear from the elected official," said Jeff Cramer, former assistant U.S. attorney.

Rod Blagojevich isn't the first politician to to have a different strategy in the courtroom than in the court of public opinion.

"I think some of is not as spontaneous as the defense would have us believe," said Richard Kling, Kent College law professor. Kling represented former Congressman Mel Reynolds during his appeal. Reynolds testifed when faced with charges of having sex with an underage campaign worker but still lost.

"Every time a defendant doesn't testify a jury's attitude was 'If I was innocent and I was charged with a crime I would get up on the Sears Tower and scream my innocence to anyone and everyone who will listen and if this guy didn't there must be a reason,'" said Kling.

"By having a little bit of sensibility and getting rid of puffery and bluster we've heard, someone finally convinced him this was smart move for his case. Not the court of public opinion but the case," said Cramer.

When asked if the decision not to present a defense is a gamble, Blagojevich attorney Sam Adam Junior said, " no."

However, legal experts agree putting Blagojevich on the stand would be a gamble.

Some people at the courthouse said they think the disagreement between Blagojevich's lawyers was merely a show meant to send a message to any juror who might see media coverage where Blagojevich says he really wants to study, but his attorneys are preventing him from taking the stand.

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