Character and Reputation Witnesses

In general

• In general, evidence of a person's character or character trait is not admissible to prove that on a particular occasion the person acted in accordance with the character or trait.

Evid. R. 404(a)


• A defendant may offer evidence of the defendant's pertinent trait, and if the evidence is admitted, the prosecutor may offer evidence to rebut it.

Evid. R. 404(a)(2)(A)

• Subject to the limitations in Rule 412, a defendant may offer evidence of an alleged victim's pertinent trait, and if the evidence is admitted, the prosecutor may offer evidence to rebut it.

Evid. R. 404(a)(2)(B)

Evid. R. 412 [dealing with sex offenses and victim’s character]

• In a homicide case, the prosecutor may offer evidence of the alleged victim's trait of peacefulness to rebut evidence that the victim was the first aggressor.

Evid. R. 404(a)(2)(C)

When Character Evidence is Admissible

• When evidence of a person's character or character trait is admissible, it may be proved by testimony about the person's reputation or by testimony in the form of an opinion by a “character witness.”

Evid. R. 405(a)

• When a person's character or character trait is an essential element of a charge, claim, or defense, the character or trait may also be proved by relevant specific instances of the person's conduct.

Evid. R. 405(b)

• Reputation testimony is NOT considered hearsay.

Evid. R. 803(21)

Character of Character Witnesses

• Mateo would likely have wanted to use gang membership as a bludgeon against the State's witnesses, while simultaneously arguing that mentioning his own gang membership was highly prejudicial evidence prohibited under Rule 404(b). In fact, it was established at sentencing that Mateo is a member of the SUR 13 street gang. Thus, we can only surmise that he benefited as much or more from the exclusion of evidence at trial concerning gang membership than the State did. As a result, we conclude that the trial court properly excluded the involvement of the State's witnesses in gang activity.

Mateo v. State, 981 N.E.2d 59 (Ind. Ct. App. 2012)

Character of Victim

• Although Wells [defendant] claims he wanted to introduce Sadler's [witness’s] testimony [of abuse at the hands of the victim] to show Carter's [victim] motive and/or intent [to assault defendant], it is clear that what he really wanted to do was show that Carter had committed a prior bad act and that he was therefore more likely to have committed similar bad acts on Wells. Thus, we cannot say that the trial court abused its discretion in concluding that Sadler's proffered testimony was inadmissible.

Wells v. State, 904 N.E.2d 265 (Ind. Ct. App. 2009)

• Victim’s character must be an essential element of the defendant’s claim of self-defense in order for defendant to introduce character and/or reputation evidence about the victim.

See Brooks v. State, 683 N.E.2d 574 (Ind. 1997)

See also Guillen v. State, 829 N.E.2d 142 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005)

Cross Examination

• The inquiry may extend to the knowledge of the witness about particular rumors or reports of misconduct which have, or are claimed to have, circulated concerning such person; and about having heard reports at variance with the reputation which he or she has given the person testified about.

See Lineback v. State, 296 N.E.2d 788 (Ind. 1973)

• When a defendant tenders his supposed good character in evidence, he thereby invites scrutiny and disclosure of specific instances of his misconduct to depreciate the weight of the testimony of his character witness, although the answers elicited may incidentally impute to him other guilt. The questions [asking whether the witness’s opinion would be altered if certain facts were true] were put in cross-examination to the direct testimony of the witness Pierson as to the good reputation of appellant for peace and quietude and it was proper cross-examination.

Jordan v. State, 110 N.E.2d 751 (Ind. 1953)

• However, the witness may not be cross-examined as to his or her knowledge of particular acts or conduct of the person for the purpose of proving such acts or conduct. They may only be cross-examined as to witness’s credibility regarding the defendant’s reputation.

See Woods v. State, 119 N.E.2d 558 (Ind. 1953)

• The cross-examination of a defendant's character witness as to whether the witness was familiar with the defendant's prior arrest and conviction is deemed proper for the purpose of ascertaining whether the witness, who had testified to the defendant's reputation for good character, knew or had heard rumors of the defendant's prior misconduct.

See Lineback v. State, 296 N.E.2d 788 (Ind. 1973)

See also Stokes v. State, 908 N.E.2d 295 (Ind. Ct. App. 2009) [The defendant’s girlfriend “opened the door” to question about her awareness of the defendant’s criminal history when she provided direct testimony that the defendant was not a violent person.]