When a person charged with a criminal offence seeks to rely upon character evidence, it usually falls into one of two categories.
First, those intending to plead guilty will often obtain a number of character references to provide to the sentencing court to demonstrate, for example, that their offending conduct was out of character.
The second category of character evidence (which this article will focus upon), is a form of evidence that someone charged with an offence may rely upon at trial in the defence of the allegations.
This type of character evidence does not directly relate to the alleged offence. Put simply, this evidence relates to the accused’s general character.
It is evidence from which a jury or magistrate might infer it unlikely that the defendant is a person who would commit the alleged offence. That is, the behaviour is out of character. This type of character evidence is evidence from which a “reasonable doubt” may be formed, of the defendant’s guilt.
If a jury or magistrate has such reasonable doubt, they are then duty-bound to find the defendant not guilty of the charge.
In the months prior to trial, a person accused of a criminal offence should speak with their lawyer about possible character witnesses. In preparing for trial, their lawyers can contact possible character witnesses and obtain statements.
The decision whether or not to call character evidence at trial is one that should be made by the client after obtaining advice from an experienced criminal lawyer. Choosing the right criminal lawyer to assist you is critical.
The benefits to relying upon character evidence are that it allows the defendant to have their character taken into account by the jury or magistrate, and it is evidence from which they can be acquitted of the charge. However, there are risks in relying on character evidence.
This is a question to be discussed with lawyers in advance of trial.
The main reasons lawyers may advise against relying upon character evidence include:
A character witness will usually provide evidence about the following:
The question of whether or not to call character evidence, and indeed any other evidence, is an important one.
Decisions that are made can impact the course of trial and in particular, a person’s prospects of being found not guilty.
For that and many other reasons, anyone charged with a criminal offence should immediately obtain advice from an experienced criminal lawyer.
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This article is of a general nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. If you require further information, advice or assistance for your specific circumstances, please contact Gilshenan & Luton, Criminal Lawyers Brisbane and Sunshine Coast, Queensland.