Evidence law is not something lawyers talk to non lawyers about, but its one of the most fascinating areas of law. Here's a little bit on character evidence.
Evidence Rule 404
Generally, you cannot use a persons "past acts" or "character traits" to prove that on a particular occassion a person commited the offense of which they are accused. The rule tries to protect persons from being the victim of their own past, and ensures that a jury is only considering the evidence as it pertains to the particular event.
Here is where the fun lawyering part comes in. We are always thinking of creative arguments for why that prohibited evidence should come in anyway. We might argue that the past act is part of a "habit." Rule 406 allows us to talk about routine practices. In a criminal case, we might argue that the past act shows motive, intent, knowledge, or modus operadi. This is permissible under 404(b)(2). Once a witness' character for truthfulness has been attacked, we may bring in past acts of truthfulness to try to rehabilitate the witness' credibility in the eyes of the jury. This argumentation is where creative lawyering comes in and is really what makes law fun and challenging. It can also make or break cases.
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