Character Evidence in Criminal Trials

You may have dozens of people who would be willing to talk about how great of a person you are to defend you in court, but this character evidence can’t be used in Arizona. In today’s episode Chuck explains character evidence and why it can’t be used in court cases.

Character Evidence Video Transcript

Hi folks. I’m going to deal with an issue that seems to come up quite frequently. When a client comes into the office and tells me what he has been accused of, and he wants to bring in all of his friends and relatives and everyone he knows to talk about how great of a person he is. We don’t allow that under the Arizona rules of evidence. Just think about this for a moment. If you had 100 people that say you’re a great person and that you could not have stolen money from wherever. It would take a short trial and make it last a month. So we don’t allow that.

The state can’t do it either, by the way. The government can’t bring somebody in to say that you are a nasty person. Character evidence does not come in under Arizona Rule of Evidence 404. When you go to talk to me or another attorney, and you say “I never would have done that., I’ve got all of these people who would say I’ve never done that.”  It doesn’t matter.  It would be terrible to be tried upon your past. Whether the state was doing it, or you could enlarge this trial into some kind of circus about how great of a person you are. The trial is just focused on what you did then.

Unless of course, the case of Bill Cosby’s trial is the perfect example. They brought in what would be considered prior “bad act evidence”. People that had apparently been assaulted by him in the same manner as the case in chief  or the crimes that he was accused of. They brought in these other women that said he did it in the same manner in order to show that he had an aberrant sexual propensity for the acts he was accused of. That may be the basis for  an appeal. As a defense lawyer in a criminal matter I would hate to have to deal with something that happened 20 or 30 years ago, that the state was using against my client. Because then, obviously the jury is going to think that my client acted in this case the same way he did 20 years ago.

It is horribly prejudicial for a defendant to have the state bring in this kind of stuff. Likewise, what is fair for the state is fair for us. We don’t bring in a bunch of evidence about how great of a person you are. Incidentally, speaking of the Bill Cosby case, he will be sentenced sometime  in the near future, and he is out on bail pending his sentencing. That wouldn’t happen in Arizona on a Felony case. If it is mandatory prison you get taken into custody right then and there when the jury comes back and says guilty. The state, which I believe was Pennsylvania where he was tried apparently have different rules. Or they just set such a high bond that normal folks can’t make. A $5,000,000 bond or whatever it was.

I hate to tell you this, but if you are a very rich defendant you typically get to stay out pending your sentencing and maybe even pending your appeal for years. That is a very strange deal that happened in that particular case and is not normal. It is definitely shouldn’t be looked at as something that would happen here that you would be out pending your appeal. I’ve never seen it happen personally.

Thank you.