Character Evidence in a Wyoming Criminal Trial
February 14th, 2022
The rules of evidence can play a key role in the outcome of a criminal case. If your criminal defense lawyer successfully argues to have certain evidence excluded, neither the judge nor the jury can consider it when deciding whether you are guilty of the crime charged. Similarly, if the judge or jury is allowed to consider certain pieces of evidence, it can increase the likelihood of a conviction.
In most cases, judges have considerable discretion in applying the rules of evidence and deciding whether or not to allow certain pieces of information to be considered in a criminal trial. But one area where the rules of evidence are fairly clear is the admissibility of character evidence at trial and at sentencing.
Under the Wyoming rules of evidence, the prosecution cannot introduce character evidence to try to convict a defendant. But if the defendant presents character evidence to show their “good character,” the prosecutor can introduce evidence of the defendant’s bad character.
So, should you introduce character evidence if you are on trial and have been accused of committing a crime? As with so many questions in the law, it depends.
What is Character Evidence?
Character evidence refers to information presented to show what kind of person we believe the defendant to be.
A person’s “character” refers to a general quality attributed to them. If we say a person has “good character,” we mean they are trustworthy, dependable, and decent. If we say someone has “bad character,” we often mean they are not someone we trust, or that they are someone we have a low opinion of.
In most cases, character evidence cannot be introduced at trial. But in certain circumstances, specifically when it is introduced by the defendant, it will be admitted to show whether or not the defendant acted in conformity with a particular character trait.
But beware: once the defendant has introduced evidence of his good character, the prosecution is free to introduce the defendant’s prior bad acts to show evidence of his bad character.
Presenting Character Evidence in a Criminal Trial
In a criminal trial, evidence of a person’s character generally cannot be admitted into evidence. This rule prevents the prosecutor from introducing evidence of a defendant’s prior bad acts, then asking the jury to find the defendant guilty based on the idea that if the defendant acted badly in one circumstance, he probably acted badly in another one.
However, the defendant can choose to present evidence of their own good character, as long as the testimony is relevant to the matter at hand.
But once the defendant has introduced character evidence, the prosecutor has the option to respond by presenting evidence of the defendant’s bad character traits.
A defendant can present character evidence at any time during a trial. For example, in trials that involve allegations of dishonesty, a defendant may wish to present testimony from friends, family members, and co-workers to show that he is an honest and trustworthy person.
But once the defendant introduces evidence of his good character, the prosecution can respond by submitting evidence of his prior bad acts.
Once a person has been convicted of a crime and the trial moves to the sentencing phase, the decision about whether to introduce character evidence changes, often significantly.
During sentencing, the prosecutor is allowed to introduce evidence of the defendant’s prior bad acts to convince the judge to impose a harsher sentence.
Likewise, the defendant can introduce evidence of his good character to show that he is not a habitual offender and should receive a lighter sentence.
The Attorneys at Just Criminal Law Fight to Protect Your One Shot at Justice
The rules of evidence are complicated, but an experienced criminal defense lawyer knows how to use them to your advantage to give you the best chance of winning at trial. In fact, many cases are won or lost before the trial even begins.
Each side has an opportunity to file and argue various motions about the admissibility of certain pieces of evidence. If your criminal defense attorney can successfully argue to have certain items of evidence excluded, it can mean the difference between taking the case to trial versus negotiating a plea to significantly reduced charges, or even having the case against you dismissed.
Before becoming a criminal defense lawyer, Ms. Williams worked as a prosecutor in Campbell County, Wyoming, and in South Dakota. Ms. Williams began practicing criminal defense in 2007 and, since then, has dedicated herself to defending the rights of the accused.
With experience as both a prosecutor and a criminal defense attorney, Ms. Williams and her team can carefully analyze your case through the eyes of a prosecutor, anticipate how a judge might respond, and provide you with a realistic assessment of the potential outcome of your case.
Ms. Williams has spent her entire career in the courtroom and knows how to win cases in front of a jury. She has put together a team of experienced criminal defense professionals who work hard to protect our clients’ one shot at justice.
If you are facing criminal charges in Wyoming or South Dakota, Just Criminal Law is here to help. Learn more about the cases we handle and why clients choose us, then contact us today to schedule your personalized case review and strategy session. Just Criminal Law proudly serves people in northeast Wyoming and western South Dakota.
DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article is offered for educational purposes only. This information is not offered as legal advice. A person accused of a crime should always consult with an attorney before making decisions that have legal consequences.