Legal Updates

Getting To Not Guilty Part One: When Character Counts

Character or reputation can play a significant role in getting to “Not Guilty.”  Under the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure, the defense has a right to call witnesses to testify to the defendant’s good character.  After the State puts on its case, the defense may offer evidence that the defendant has a good reputation for being a law-abiding, peaceable, non-violent individual.  (See PA Suggested Criminal Jury Instructions 3.06)

Only if the defendant provides character evidence, may the district attorney call witnesses to contest defendant’s good reputation.  This testimony may be used for one purpose only.  That is to help judge whether the defense’s character witnesses are actually familiar with the defendant’s reputation, and whether their testimony was accurate.

This is important because the law recognizes that a person of good character is not likely to commit a crime contrary to their nature.  Therefore, evidence of good character may by itself be sufficient to raise a reasonable doubt.  One of the most common issues in successful appeals, is that the defense attorney failed to call witnesses to testify on behalf of defendant’s good character.

If the defendant has a lengthy prior criminal record, then the character defense is obviously inapplicable.  However, if you or a loved one has recently been arrested and has stellar character, this critical point needs to be hammered home at your trial.  Retain an aggressive defense attorney who will call witnesses from your community to testify on your behalf.

Character alone, is enough in the state of Pennsylvania, to find a defendant “Not Guilty.”