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What Is a Character Witness and When Is It Appropriate to Use One?

April 26, 2019

When a criminal case goes to court, both sides may call witnesses to testify. There are different types of witnesses that a defense attorney may call. These include eyewitnesses (who may have witnessed an alleged incident) and character witnesses. Your defense attorney will work with you to determine whether it’s appropriate to call a character witness.

Defining Character Witnesses

A character witness is someone who knows the defendant well. This person testifies as to the defendant’s good character traits. These might include trustworthiness or honesty.

Understanding Character Evidence

The testimony provided by a character witness is called character evidence. For character evidence to be admissible, or allowed, in court, it must be based on the witness’ personal knowledge. In other words, the witness cannot testify that someone else knows the defendant to be a good person. Character evidence must also be relevant to the case. For example, if the defendant is charged with a violent crime like manslaughter, the character witness could testify about the defendants’ nonviolent nature.

Determining Whether to Call a Character Witness

It isn’t always a good idea to call a character witness to testify on a defendant’s behalf. There are a few reasons for this. First, character witnesses are always individuals who know the defendant well. For this reason, the jury may be less likely to believe the evidence. Second, once the defense calls a character witness, the prosecution can cross-examine that person. The cross-examination may reveal less-than-positive aspects of the defendant’s character or past behaviors. And third, once the defense opens the door by calling a character witness, the prosecution can then respond by calling its own character witness. Despite the potential drawbacks, there may be some limited circumstances in which it may be appropriate to call a character witness. The defense attorney will recommend the best course of action for the defendant.

When your freedom and reputation are at stake, you need a seasoned attorney who will vigorously defend your legal rights. Contact the law office of Janet Altschuler at (520) 247-1789. Ms. Altschuler puts her 20-plus years of experience to work defending individuals accused of crimes in the Tucson area.