Character is often used to refer to the qualities that define a person. Evidence is proof or testimony that is relevant to a case. Character evidence is a legal term used to describe proof and testimony given regarding a person’s qualities. This may include morality and honesty.
Court cases are often reliant on oral testimony. This means people provide the bulk of the information upon which verdicts are based. In many instances, people have no means to verify what they say. The only thing they may have to support their testimony is the oath they take. It is, therefore, important to ascertain whether or not they are worthy of belief.
Character evidence may be provided to credit or to discredit a person, depending on the circumstances. There are several instances in which a person may need to be credited. This is especially true when one party to a case has attempted to paint a negative image of the other party. This is common in divorce and custody battles.
One spouse will often accuse another of vile or deceitful acts. There may be no way of proving or disproving this other than to analyze the testimony of people who are familiar with the parties. If a husband, for example, accuses his wife of chronic infidelity, she may choose to defend herself by having people testify that she has always displayed very high moral standards.
In such a case, character evidence can be very important. Factors involving the outcome of the case could be deemed on which party is believed and to what extent. The factors can include who will bear fault, alimony awards, and custody rights.
A person may need to be discredited when he gives important testimony that the opposing party does not think should be believed. If a witness is called to defend someone accused of fraud, it is relevant to make the judge and jury aware if the witness has been convicted of fraud. This will show that his testimony may not be completely trustworthy, although it does not necessarily mean he is lying or that the accused is guilty.
Character evidence is not permitted to smear people in courtrooms. It is only permitted when it has direct bearing on the case. If, for example, a person is on trial for robbery, it is permissible to testify to his character by pointing out that he is a pastor. It is not, however, generally permissible, to enter evidence of infidelity into such a case.