If you’ve ever seen a courtroom drama like Law & Order, you’ve probably seen moments when the defendant’s excellent character, the victim’s bad character, or some other form of character evidence was presented. Perhaps one of the attorneys disagreed, or perhaps the evidence was the deciding element in the case’s conclusion. So, when may character evidence be utilized in a criminal trial in California?
Keep reading to get the facts. Then contact Chambers Law Firm at 714-760-4088 to speak to a compassionate, aggressive, experienced criminal defense attorney.
The importance of character evidence
Character evidence is important in criminal cases because it may impact the jury’s judgment of witnesses, both the defendant and the victim. It can also reveal whether or not a witness is telling the truth. If you are facing criminal charges in California, it is critical that you understand the regulations regarding how and when character evidence can be used.
The rights of defendants
Defendants have the right to provide evidence of their own good character at any time. If you’re charged with a dishonesty violation like embezzlement, for example, you may submit proof of your honesty, such as testimony from coworkers or acquaintances who say they’ve known you to be a trustworthy person. However, providing character evidence as a defendant carries a risk. It is stated that if you do so, you would “open the door” for the prosecution to provide proof of your poor character.
The rights of the prosecutor
Prosecutors can’t use character evidence unless you give them permission to do so (with some exceptions). If you plead insanity or allege that the police framed you, the prosecution will be able to use character evidence against you.
Taking the stand
Defendants have the option of testifying in their criminal case. It’s crucial to understand that as a defendant in a criminal case, you have the option of taking the stand or not. However, it is typically a good idea to follow your criminal defense attorney’s advice. Your lawyer will be able to advise you on the benefits and drawbacks of testifying, especially in light of California’s evidence laws and prosecutor’s techniques for getting you to talk about your character if you do testify.
If it is related to the underlying crime, defendants might offer proof of character for victims of crimes. If you’re charged with assault, for example, you may present proof that the claimed victim has a history of provoking confrontations.
However, once you provide such evidence, the prosecution will have the opportunity to refute it. These limitations do not apply to sexual assault victims; there are unique “rape shield” statutes in existence that limit the kind of evidence that may be presented concerning the victim’s character and previous behavior.
Finally, each witness who takes the stand in a criminal prosecution risks having their testimony impeached if they lie throughout their testimony. Presenting a witness with a past conflicting statement to prove that they are contradicting themselves is impeachment.
For example, if a witness told the police that another person committed the burglary but later testifies at trial that it was you, your criminal defense attorney might use the witness’ previous conflicting testimony to impeach her.