Evidence: Character Evidence

  • Character Evidence – as to a person’s general disposition or propensity.

    • In Civil Cases: Generally inadmissible to prove propensity; except in two cases negligent hiring and defamation (where such character is an essential element of a claim or defense).

    • In Criminal Cases:

      • D’s Character Offered by D – generally inadmissible to prove propensity; BUT D may introduce evidence of his own good character for a relevant trait. If D does so, P may rebut with evidence of D’s bad character for the same trait. When character evidence is admissible to prove propensity, proper methods: FED à reputation or opinion;

        Evidence of specific acts = NOT ALLOWED.

      • D’s Character Offered by P to Rebut – If D has opened the door by calling character witnesses:

        • P may rebut by calling its own witnesses to testify to D’s relevant bad character.
          • FORM: FED à reputation or opinion;

        • P may rebut by cross examining D’s character witnesses by questioning their knowledge of specific bad acts by the D that are relevant to the character trait at issue.
          • FORM: Opinion witnesses à “Did you know?”; Reputation witnesses à “Have you heard?”

      • Victim’s Character in a Self Defense Case – criminal D may offer evidence of V’s violent character to prove that V was first aggressor. FORM: Reputation or opinion. Prosecution may rebut by evidence of (1) the victim’s good character for that trait or (2) the defendant’s bad character for that trait.

        • D’s knowledge of V’s character for Violence: D may offer evidence of his own knowledge of V’s bad character for violence for the purpose of showing that he reasonably believed in the need to use self defense. (propensity evidence).

      • Victim’s Character in a Sexual Misconduct Case – (“Rape Shield” Rule) – In a case involving alleged sexual misconduct, D ordinarily may not introduce evidence of: (1) victim’s reputation for promiscuity; or (2) victim’s prior sexual conduct. (applies in civil cases, too).

        • Exceptions (notwithstanding the general rule, D may introduce):
          • Evidence of V’s sexual activity with D, but only if D’s defense is consent.
          • Evidence of V’s sexual activity with others, but only to prove that someone other than D was the source of physical evidence.
          • Evidence required to be admitted by D’s Due Process Rights