What Is Character Evidence in A Criminal Defense Case?
The mercy rule enables a person to bring forward evidence of his or her good character as a defense to criminal charges. This is outlined under Federal Rule of Evidence 404. Evidence of good character cannot be used to argue that the defendant committed the crime but shouldn’t be convicted. It is admissible to show through character evidence, however, that the defendant is unlikely to have committed the alleged crimes.
Character evidence usually comes in the form of an opinion and testimony provided by the defendant’s close acquaintances. Character evidence must be based on personal knowledge as well as relevant in order to be allowed into the court. The defense can incur serious risks when putting together a defense strategy based on character witnesses.
The major risks are that the prosecution can cross-examine a good character witness, bringing out other details about the defendant’s past, that the opinion of a defendant’s good character usually comes from a person who has a close personal relationship with the defendant and therefore, this might not carry much weight with the jury and that once the defendant introduces evidence of good character, the prosecution might use their own witnesses to testify to the defendant’s bad character. If a defendant doesn’t offer evidence of his or her good character, however, the prosecution can’t offer evidence of his bad character.
This means that the prosecution cannot attack the defendant’s character unless the defense strategy has opened that door by presenting evidence of good character in the form of testimony from witnesses and acquaintances. Since this can be such a tricky thing to consider and might not necessarily be relevant or recommended in your individual case, you need to have a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney who can walk you through the pros and cons of whether or not to use good character witnesses in your legal claim.