The Truth About Character Evidence

I found a great website for information on jury research.  Kathy Kellerman is a communications consultant who regularly posts answers to questions about how jurors make decisions.  She has an informative post about the effectiveness of evidence of a defendant's good character in a criminal trial.  I think most people (including attorneys) will be surprised by what the research concludes about this type of evidence.

Question:

Does character evidence help or hurt defendants in criminal trials?

Answer:

Recent research by Hunt and Budesheim (2004) studied the effects of positive character evidence when offered alone, and when followed by a prosecutor cross-examining about specific bad acts.

 

These researchers found that, on its own, general descriptions of a defendant's positive personality characteristics had little effect on juror decision-making; that is, positive character evidence did not reduce guilt perceptions or decisions to convict. Additionally, when a character witness was cross-examined with examples of a defendant's previous specific bad acts, jurors' impressions of the defendant were more negative, guilt perceptions higher, and conviction decisions more likely than when no information at all was provided about the defendant's character.

The researchers concluded that permissible positive character evidence does little to help a defendant, and negative character evidence in the form of specific bad acts cross-examination can hurt a defendant considerably.

Source: Hunt, J. S. & Budesheim, T. L. (2004). How jurors use and misuse character evidence. Journal of Applied Psychology, 2, pp. 347-361.

I recommend you check out her website here.

DISCLAIMER: The information in this blog is NOT legal advice, nor does it establish an attorney-client relationship between you and Koplow & Patane. Legal advice usually varies from case to case.