Character Evidence for Criminal Charges in North Carolina

Court Trial Concept

If you’ve ever watched a courtroom drama like The Rainmaker, A Time to Kill, or A Few Good Men you’ve no doubt seen prosecutors and defense attorneys objecting to questions or evidence the other lawyers want to introduce.

Scenes of lawyers objecting and engaging in heated arguments about evidence make for good entertainment. But they’re also accurate insofar as the Rules of Evidence can have a profound effect on the outcome of a criminal case. A good criminal defense lawyer will learn the Rules of Evidence, know them well and, more importantly, understand how to use them to their client’s advantage.

A lawyer who successfully argues to have certain evidence excluded from trial, meaning the jury is not allowed to consider it when deciding whether or not the defendant is guilty, can greatly increase the chances that his client will be found Not Guilty.

When judges make rulings on the admissibility of evidence they often engage in a balancing act, deciding whether the evidence is relevant, and whether allowing it would prejudice the defendant. But one area where the Rules of Evidence are fairly clear is the rule pertaining to the use of character evidence in a criminal trial.

Admissibility of Character Evidence

When we refer to character evidence in a criminal trial, we mean evidence that is presented about the defendant to show whether he or she acted in conformity with a particular character trait.

A person’s character refers to a general quality that is often attributed to a person. When we say someone has “good character” we generally mean they are trustworthy and decent. Likewise, someone with “bad character” is someone we may not trust or someone we have a somewhat low opinion of.

In general, evidence of the defendant’s character cannot be used to show that he or she acted in conformity with a prior character trait. This prevents the prosecutor from presenting testimony from other people that the defendant was a “bad” person and then asking the jury to find the defendant guilty based on the idea that if he acted “badly” in one circumstance, he probably acted badly in this instance.

However, the defendant can present evidence to show his or her good character, as long as the testimony presented is relevant to the matter at hand. But beware, once the defendant presents character evidence, the prosecution can respond by challenging any character evidence introduced by the defendant.

Presenting Character Evidence in a Criminal Trial

During Trial

Character evidence can be important during a criminal trial because it can impact how the jury evaluates a witness, the defendant, and the victim.

If you have been charged with a crime, you have the right to present evidence of your good character at any time. For example, if you are facing charges that involve an element of dishonesty, you may wish to present testimony from friends, family, and co-workers to show that you are an honest and trustworthy person. Similarly, if you are facing theft charges, it can be beneficial to present evidence that you are “not the kind of person” who would steal.

But once you have “opened the door” by introducing evidence of your good character, the prosecution now has free reign to introduce evidence of your bad character.

At Sentencing

While there are strategic considerations when it comes to introducing character evidence during a trial, it is frequently introduced at the sentencing stage.

Once a person has been convicted of a crime, the prosecutor can introduce evidence of the defendant’s prior conduct to show that someone with a prior criminal history should receive a more severe sentence.

Similarly, a defense attorney may present character evidence at the sentencing phase of a criminal trial to show that the defendant is not a habitual offender and should receive a lighter sentence.

The Stowe Law Firm: Serious Representation for Serious Crimes

If you were charged with a crime, an experienced criminal defense attorney will help you make decisions about whether to introduce character evidence at trial.North Carolina criminal defense attorney Ryan Stowe has extensive experience representing people who have been accused of crimes in and around Salisbury, North Carolina. He takes pride in being a true advocate for his clients who works hard to make sure his clients get the best resolution possible.

When you work with Ryan Stowe you will find that he is a caring and compassionate advocate who will do all he can to ensure you receive justice. We invite you to learn more about the cases we handle, to read reviews from other people we’ve helped, and to get answers to Frequently Asked Questions. Then contact us today to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your situation and how we can help.

The Stowe Law Firm, PLLC represents people in Rowan County, Mecklenburg County, Davidson County, Cabarrus County, and Stanly County.