The accused in a criminal case has the right to offer evidence of a pertinent character trait in order to cast doubt on whether he or she would commit the crime charged by the government. This right gives the accused an opportunity to offer predisposition evidence that is otherwise generally inadmissible. Calling a character witness is not without risk, however. The principal risk is that the witness may be cross-examined about specific acts that are inconsistent with the character to which the witness attests. This article discusses Michelson v. United States, and United States v. Pirani, the latter which reminds us that a federal defendant has the option of calling a character witness to testify as to reputation, opinion, or both; a witness called as a reputation witness may end up offering opinion testimony by volunteering support for the defendant; and guilt assuming questions are now perceived by many courts to be inconsistent with the presumption of innocence.
GW Paper Series
GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 217; GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 217
Stephen A. Saltzburg, Guilt Assuming Hypotheticals: Basic Character Evidence Rules, 20 Crim. Just. 47 (2009).