Friday, May 29, 2015

Character Evidence

Character evidence is a complicated area of Evidence Law. Evidence is a subject that requires a lot of practice through questions but the foundation first has to be built. The following is a summary of character evidence for purposes of the MBE.

In a civil case, evidence of character offered by either party to prove the conduct of a person is only admissible if character is directly at issue in the case. For example, one situation in which character is directly at issue is in a case of defamation. Here, character of plaintiff will be at issue, because a determination of plaintiff's character will be required to determine whether the statements made by defendant about plaintiff's reputation were true or false. As such, character evidence is admissible

In a criminal case, the rules are more complicated. First, the prosecution can not initiate evidence of bad character of the defendant to show that because of those character traits defendant is more likely to have committed the crime. The defense, on the other hand, can introduce evidence of defendant's good character to show his innocence of the alleged crime. This evidence can only be introduced through opinion or reputation evidence. Be careful to ensure that the character trait defendant is introducing is pertinent to the case; only pertinent character traits may be offered by defendant.

This now provides the prosecution with two possibilities for rebuttal. The prosecution can cross examine the witness who testified to defendant's good character, and can ask that witness whether he knows of, or has has heard of, specific instances of defendant's misconduct. The prosecution may also call its own witnesses to testify to the defendant's bad reputation or to give their opinions of defendant's bad character.

Defendant can also introduce reputation and opinion evidence of a bad character trait of the alleged victim when it is relevant to show defendant's innocence (often when defendant is claiming self-defense).

The prosecution again has two options to rebut that evidence. The prosecution can introduce reputation or opinion evidence of the victim's good character, or introduce reputation or opinion evidence of the defendant's bad character.

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