Character evidence isn't usually allowed during a criminal trial (there are a few exceptions), but you may be allowed to introduce it during the sentencing stage. For example, you may use your "good" character when pleading with the judge to have mercy on you and lower your penalties. However, introducing character witnesses doesn't always help, and in some cases, it can even hurt your case. Here are three major ways character evidence might fail to help you much:
It Might Not Carry Much Weight
One of the primary problems with character testimony is that it rarely carries much weight. As you know, your character consists of your personal attributes or personality. This means that only your close acquaintances, such as family members, friends, and work colleagues, can know you to the point where they know your character. In fact, they are the ones defendants usually call upon to deliver character testimony.
Unfortunately, these people are likely to have your best interests at heart, which means they might not be impartial. The prosecution, judge, and jury all know this, so they may not place much faith in the testimony of your character witnesses.
It Can Open the Door to Your Past Misdeeds
With a few exceptions, the prosecution isn't allowed to go after your character during the trial period. One of these exceptions is if you start testifying as to your good character—you open the door for the prosecution to go after your questionable characters. Most prosecutors do this during the cross-examination by trying to discredit your supposedly stellar character. The prosecution can also bring their own character witnesses to testify on their behalf. Since very few people have an impeccable past, you might be giving the prosecution the ammunition to nail you.
People Tend to Emphasize Negative Information
Lastly, you should also think twice about introducing character testimony because people tend to emphasize negative information. This means that if your character witnesses produce good testimony on your behalf and the prosecution's character witnesses produce testimony to the contrary, the jury is more likely to believe the prosecution's side. In short, negative testimony can easily cloud your positive testimony.
Therefore, don't assume you have a strong case just because you have a few people who can act as your character witnesses. If you have been charged with a crime, you need to garner all the evidence you can find and contact all the material witnesses possible. A criminal law attorney will help you put all these together and use them for your defense.