When Might Your Criminal Defense Lawyer Use a Character Witness?

If you were arrested in Virginia, you must have a strong defense strategy to avoid the stiff penalties and long-term consequences you’ll face if convicted. Having character witnesses testify on your behalf. At The Wilson Law Firm, our experienced Manassas defense lawyers can advise you on whether utilizing a character witness could benefit your case and help identify suitable candidates.

When are Character Witnesses Allowed in Virginia Criminal Cases? 

Depending on your circumstances, you may want to use character witnesses who can offer a more comprehensive view of you for judges or juries. A character witness is someone who attests to your reputation, personality, and conduct in the community. They aim to portray you in a positive light by testifying to your moral integrity, honesty, and overall character. By providing firsthand accounts or observations, they attempt to humanize you and counter any negative perceptions. However, character witnesses aren’t always allowed or necessary as part of a defense strategy at trial. character-witness-in-courtroom

In Virginia criminal cases, character evidence is generally not admissible to prove conduct that conforms with a particular trait on a specific occasion under Rule 2:404 of the Virginia Supreme Court Rules 

However, there are exceptions, which include: 

  • Character trait of the accused. Evidence of an accused’s pertinent character trait may be presented by the accused or by the prosecution to refute evidence presented by the opposing party.
  • Character trait of the victim. In self-defense cases, the accused may offer evidence of the victim's traits or violence, or the prosecution may offer evidence of a victim’s pertinent character trait or acts of violence to counter any defense evidence.
  • Character trait of a witness. Evidence of a witness's character trait may be admissible as provided in specific Supreme Court rules.

In addition, other crimes, wrongs, or acts generally aren’t admissible to prove character traits unless their probative value—or proof of purpose—outweighs incidental prejudice and is relevant to the offense charged, such as to establish motive, opportunity, intent, or a plan to commit the crime. 

Even if character witnesses aren’t useful in this phase of your criminal case, our knowledgeable criminal defense attorneys may use them at your sentencing hearing. Despite limitations on character evidence during trial proceedings, character witnesses can be instrumental by presenting testimonials, letters of support, or personal accounts to mitigate penalties and advocate for leniency.

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