Fighting For My Freedom

Why Character Rarely Factors Into Criminal Cases

When a person stands accused of a crime, it's not unusual for them to want to make assertions about how good their character is. For this reason, it might seem surprising when you sit down with a criminal defense attorney to learn that they're usually not interested in character questions at all. There are, however, several important reasons a criminal attorney chooses to address allegations this way.

It's About What the Prosecution Can Prove

Foremost, criminal cases boil down to what the prosecutor's office can or cannot prove. Do they have video of the events? How did the police respond to the situation, if at all? Does witness testimony add up? Is there physical evidence?

Taking a case in the direction of character gets away from the core of what a criminal case is about. Fundamentally, the prosecution has a legal and moral obligation to try to prove the facts of the case.

Exclusion of Prejudicial Statements

One major thing judges attempt to avoid in dealing with cases is the inclusion of unrelated statements by the defendant that are prejudicial. For example, if a video is introduced into evidence that includes audio, the defense has a right to ask the court to exclude irrelevant audio that might be prejudicial. If the defendant said something racist, for example, in a case that clearly didn't have a racial component, that audio would have to be struck from the video before it could be presented to a jury. Even mean people have the right to a fair trial, after all.

This is not an out for prejudicial statements that are relevant. If the previous example involved an assault that included accelerated charges for hate crimes, there's a good chance the judge would allow the audio.

Defendants Have the Right to Avoid Character Questions

When there's a criminal proceeding in the American legal system, the defendant has a right to not dive into the issue of character. This ensures their right to a fair trial.

More important, especially from the perspective of a criminal law attorney, not opening up the question of character means avoiding going down a rabbit hole. A defendant can, if they want, bring up questions of character. The downside to this is that the prosecution then has the right to do the same. Rather than get into a fight over how good or bad the defendant is, many attorneys leave well enough alone.

To learn more, contact a criminal defense attorney.