Nearly a month into his fraud trial, on Friday, October 27, Sam Bankman-Fried (SBF) is expected to take the stand in the New York court where jurors will soon deliberate his fate.
The former crypto mogul decided to testify in what amounts to a personal appeal to the jury, which his defense hopes will convince at least one of them to believe his story. But given the FTX founder’s precedent for sticking his foot in it, is opening his mouth really a good idea?
In October 2022, before his crypto empire collapsed like a house of cards and SBF was arrested on suspicion of fraud, he joined fellow crypto CEO Erik Voorhees in a YouTube debate entitled “How Do We Regulate Crypto?”
While supporters of more liberal crypto regulation took to the video’s comments section en masse to denounce SBF’s calls for a stricter rulebook, more concerning to Bankman-Fried today is their response to his debating skills.
Contrasted against Voorhees’ polished presentation and well-articulated arguments, SBF’s delivery failed to impress viewers, regardless of their political inclination.
The video’s comments section is littered with proclamations like, “SBF is in over his head” and “SBF is just not credible” — remarks that don’t bode well for an alleged fraudster who wants to convince people he’s innocent.
In court, SBF wore a suit and tie and wasn’t vaping or distracted by off-camera friends and colleagues. But it remains to be seen whether he will be able to constrain his irreverent demeanor and rambling style of speech.
Typically, only around half of criminal defendants take the witness stand, with the rest exercising their Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. And while appealing to the jury directly can have its advantages, many lawyers caution that the risks of doing so outweigh the potential benefits.
Discussing whether or not SBF should testify, Rebecca Mermelstein, a former Southern District of New York prosecutor, noted that “the general wisdom is always—don’t.”
As Mermelstein noted, testifying as a witness opens up defendants to all manner of attacks, while potentially making it harder to focus jurors’ attention on holes in the prosecution’s argument. “It’s easier to poke holes in someone else’s story rather than come up with a completely coherent narrative,” she observed.