Character Evidence of the Defendant
What is it? Evidence of a person’s character. For example, do they have a reputation for lying? Do they have a reputation for violence? Introduction of something to show such a reputation or character trait is considered character evidence.
Is it allowed? Yes, it is. However, according to Young v. State, a Defendant’s character may not be assailed by the State in a criminal prosecution unless good character of the accused has first been introduced.
If Character Evidence is introduced it must be in the form of reputation testimony. Opinion testimony is not allowed. For example, In a crime of murder, the introduction by the Defendant of character evidence for his reputation for peacefulness.
Introducing: Florida Statute 90.404(1)(a) specifically allows the accused to offer this evidence where it is a “pertinent trait of character.” General character evidence is not admissible. The evidence must relate to a particular relevant trait.
Excluded where: Character evidence is excluded where it doesn’t satisfy the appropriate form, or where the character trait that is introduced is not relevant in the case at bar.
Specific Instances of conduct not allowed: For example, in a murder trial, the Defendant cannot introduce evidence of specific instances where he acted peacefully. Instead, the evidence would need to come from a witness who could testify to the Defendant’s reputation for peacefulness.
Where the State believes that the Defendant has committed very similar crimes in the past, the state may attempt to introduce those specific instances of criminal behavior. This is referred to as “Williams Rule Evidence.” This evidence is allowed in only where the state files a notice that they will be introducing this type of evidence, and where the state can satisfy very stringent standards of specificity. These rules of specificity are loosened a bit where the past acts involve children. Note, that in general, Williams Rule Evidence is difficult to get in, but it sometimes does make it. It’s important that your lawyer know the law and can help you defend yourself from these prior bad acts being introduced against you.