Will John Edwards take the stand in his trial?

(CBS News) CBS News legal analyst Jack Ford said he'd be "surprised" if John Edwards didn't take the stand in his trial.

"Statistically, most defendants don't take the stand," Ford said Monday on "CBS This Morning." Ford points to Edwards' past as a successful trial attorney who made a living and a fortune in the courtroom. "My guess is he's thinking he's probably the best lawyer in the courtroom."

High states for John Edwards at trial begins
John Edwards' incredible gamble

The criminal trial of the former democratic presidential candidate and senator begins Monday in North Carolina.

(Below, watch the report from Erin Moriarty of "48 Hours.")

Edwards is accused of conspiring to receive nearly $1 million from two wealthy donors to conceal his affair with Reille Hunter. That money went to keep Hunter stashed away in luxury hotels and ferried across the country in private jets. Hundreds of thousands of dollars was kept in a secret bank account, but none of it ever went directly into campaign coffers.

If found guilty, Edwards could face as much as 30 years in prison and a maximum fine of $1.5 million.

Edwards' affair with Hunter, while his wife Elizabeth was dying of cancer, brought down a once-promising political career. But will it also send him to prison? It's far from an open and shut case.

"This trial asks the question of where does assistance to a candidate's personal life end, and a contribution to their political campaign begin," said former federal prosecutor Robert Mintz.

"When I teach campaign and election law, I talk about the typical political corruption cases, where essentially an office holder or a candidate is selling something," said former deputy N.C. attorney general Hampton Dellinger. "None of that is what has happened here."

Campaign finance rules have never been applied in a case like this, legal experts say. Perhaps that's why Edwards actually rejected a plea deal that would have called for a few months in prison, but allowed him to keep his law license. He preferred to put his fate in the hands of the jury instead.

Another challenge for the prosecution: their star witness, Andrew Young, has a credibility problem. A former Edwards aide, he handled and used some of that cash. At one point, he claimed he was the father of Hunter's baby.

The defense will go after him very aggressively, but with a very unpopular client, they face an uphill climb of their own. "One of the challenges for the defense is to keep the jury focused on the law here and not have this turn it into a referendum on Mr. Edwards popularity," Mintz said.

For his part, Edwards seems keenly aware of that challenge. "I will regret for the rest of my life the pain and the harm that I've caused to others but I did not break the law," Edwards said.

Watch Moriarty and CBS News legal analyst Jack Ford discuss the case in the video player above.

  • Erin Moriarty

    Correspondent, "48 Hours"