Character Witness


Then: A character witness provides testimony about a defendant’s character. Under common law and before the Federal Rules of Evidence, character witnesses could only testify to the general reputation of the defendant, not the witness’s personal opinion. In this respect, character testimony is also an exception to the Hearsay Rule because it permits a witness to share the general opinions of others as a truth that is not cross-examined (Jacob Stein, “Character and Reputation”).

Now: The Federal Rules of Evidence in 1975 allowed character witnesses not only to testify to the general reputation of a defendant but also the witness’s personal opinion (Federal Rules of Evidence Rule 405 and Nebraska Code Section 27-405). Although character witnesses testimony has been broadened since 1975, it no longer has the impact it once had. This is due to the evidentiary resources technology has provided as well as the recognition that people often act contrary to their apparently good character (Jacob Stein, “Character and Reputation,” p. 1-2).


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