Let’s say you have been arrested based on an eye witness’s identification. The witness, however, is mistaken, and you can prove it by showing that you have physical characteristics missing from the witness’s description. For a number of reasons, your lawyer does not want you to testify on your own behalf. Can you show your physical characteristics without taking the stand?

A recent Illinois court decision says that you can—provided you can lay the foundation necessary to admit the characteristic into evidence.

In People v. Gonzalez, the defendant was linked to a murder based solely on eyewitness identification. The witnesses, however, did not mention the tattoos on defendant’s hands. The defendant wanted to show his tattoos at trial. The court denied his request reasoning that the state would be unable to cross-examine defendant as to when he had obtained the tattoos.

The appellate court disagreed. Physical characteristics are not testimonial and therefore do not raise the right to cross-examine. In fact, the state can force a defendant to show tattoos without violating the defendant’s right against self-incrimination. Foundation on the timing of the tattoos could instead be laid by a tattoo parlor receipt or by testimony from other witnesses who could then be cross-examined. Therefore, a defendant can show his tattoos without testifying.

If you have been charged with a crime, contact an experienced criminal law attorney immediately. An attorney can help present the facts of your case for your best possible defense. Can the state prove all the elements of your offense beyond a reasonable doubt? Can you present evidence in your defense without having to testify? Even if the police acted lawfully and the evidence against you is overwhelming, an attorney who is respected in the courthouse may be able to negotiate a more favorable plea agreement than you could on your own.

If you have questions about this or another related Illinois criminal or traffic matter, please contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email

(Besides Skokie, Matt Keenan also serves the communities of Arlington Heights, Chicago, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glenview, Morton Grove, Mount Prospect, Niles, Northbrook, Park Ridge, Rolling Meadows, Wilmette and Winnetka.)

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