Character Evidence Question

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JakeTappers

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Character Evidence Question

Postby JakeTappers » Sun Feb 10, 2019 7:06 pm

So, by taking the stand, a defendant "automatically" puts their credibility at issue. But does that mean they can bring in a character witness to testify to truthfulness off the bat? if it's murder, or something, truthfulness isn't pertinent. But can you just call a character witness right off, without the prosecution first going after your character/credibility? And how can they really do that if pros can't first introduced. Tied my mind in a knot.

diatribe

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Re: Character Evidence Question

Postby diatribe » Mon Feb 11, 2019 12:54 am

JakeTappers wrote:So, by taking the stand, a defendant "automatically" puts their credibility at issue. But does that mean they can bring in a character witness to testify to truthfulness off the bat? if it's murder, or something, truthfulness isn't pertinent. But can you just call a character witness right off, without the prosecution first going after your character/credibility? And how can they really do that if pros can't first introduced. Tied my mind in a knot.


So I believe your question revolves around two concepts: (1) character generally and (2) character for truthfulness (i.e. credibility)

All witnesses, including defendants, open the door to attacks on their truthfulness just by being a witness. So the prosecution can't attack a non-testifying defendant's credibility if the defendant didn't testify. However, the prosecution also cannot just attack the defendant's character for X (let's say peacefulness/violence)- the door must first be opened as to peacefulness/violence. If the defense puts evidence of the defendant's character for peacefulness in a murder trial, the door is open and the prosecution can rebut it. Similarly, if the prosecution puts on evidence of the defendant's character for dishonesty, the door is open for the defendant to rehabilitate that character.

You asked whether the defense can bring in a character witness to testify to the defendant's character for truthfulness. The answer is no, unless his character for truthfulness has first been attacked. To be sure, the defendant put his credibility "at issue", but that just means he opened the door to allow the prosecution's attack of his credibility. Unless the prosecution actually attacks his credibility, he cannot rehabilitate himself

I hope this helps

Bingo_Bongo

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Re: Character Evidence Question

Postby Bingo_Bongo » Mon Feb 11, 2019 3:16 am

JakeTappers wrote:So, by taking the stand, a defendant "automatically" puts their credibility at issue. But does that mean they can bring in a character witness to testify to truthfulness off the bat? if it's murder, or something, truthfulness isn't pertinent. But can you just call a character witness right off, without the prosecution first going after your character/credibility? And how can they really do that if pros can't first introduced. Tied my mind in a knot.


I think what you're asking is this: Can a Defendant bring in a character witness just to bolster their credibility?

The answer is no, the prosecution has to attack their credibility first. That's Federal Rule of Evidence 608(a) if you want to look it up yourself.

It'd go like this: The Defendant testifies in their case-in-chief, the prosecution then impeaches their credibility with their character witness, the defendant can then rehabilitate after that happens.

As a practical matter, the only impeachment that usually happens when a defendant takes the stand is the release of the defendant's priors involving moral turpitude. And typically the defense will bring up the defendant's moral turp on direct with the defendant to soften the blow. Character witnesses talking about reputations for honesty in the community, and what not, aren't really effective to jurors, they take up a lot of time, and really only come up on law school exams.

nixy

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Re: Character Evidence Question

Postby nixy » Mon Feb 11, 2019 7:57 am

Can’t the prosecution also impeach the defendant’s credibility on cross, opening the door for the def to bring a character witness?

Bingo_Bongo

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Re: Character Evidence Question

Postby Bingo_Bongo » Tue Feb 12, 2019 1:52 am

nixy wrote:Can’t the prosecution also impeach the defendant’s credibility on cross, opening the door for the def to bring a character witness?


Yeah. The opposing party just has to attack first, then you can rehabilitate.



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