Jan 12, 2018 in Law

State and Federal Court Systems: The Federal Rules of Evidence

Introduction

The Federal Rule of Evidence refers to the rules enacted by the United States’ Congress in 1975 to govern the proceedings in the courts of the United States (Walton, 2006). Since its enactment, this set of laws has been amended severally, the recent one being the Federal Rules of Evidence 2012. For the purposes of administering pure and timely justice, this rule was set to guide the admissibility or inadmissibility of Character in the trial sessions of both criminal and civil cases.

The Purpose for Having Guidelines about the Admissibility of Character Evidence

Facing difficulties in ascertaining the authenticity or the validity of the character evidences being presented before any court, there appeared a need for clear and strict guideline in the administration of the character evidence.

Most of the character evidences are given based on a preconceived opinion of the witnesses. On the other hand, some defendants get too elusive and are of unpredictable character to determine their innocence. On rational grounds, judges might be persuaded to believe that certain situations can force an individual to act in a certain way, which does not necessarily reflect his/her real character (Best, 2007). Rule 404, therefore, restricts the admissibility of a person’s character evidence in proving his/her actions in a particular instance. Additionally, Article VI, Rule 608 was reinforced to administer the character evidenced with closer consideration of the past conduct of the witnesses. 

Example of a Situation, Where Character Evidence was Inadmissible in a Criminal Trial

During the hearing of a rape case in which the NBA superstar Kobe Bryant was accused of raping a nineteen-year-old girl, judge Terry Ruckriegle dismissed all the character evidences relating to the accused, Mr. Bryant (Orenstein, 2007). The judge overlooked character evidences about the accused, in addition to the laboratory finding that Bryant’s t-shirt had some bloodstains that are obvious to have come from the woman. Even though the victim decided to terminate the court process, the jury was overwhelmed by the seemingly more strong evidences from the accused attorney (Orenstein, 2007).  

Reasons Why a Judge May or May Not Admit Character Evidence about a Rape Victim at Trial

The Federal Rule of Evidence under Rule 404 (a) (2) allows the jury not to administer character of evidence about the rape victim in an attempt to prove that the individual once acted in accordance to the quoted character. The judge, therefore, can dismiss the character evidence given if he sense that such evidences are unfounded and prejudicial  in trying to prove the defendant’s guilt in the current litigation based on his past actions or behavior (Rothstein, 1975).

Rule 412 (a), also stipulates that any judge can dismiss any evidences given about a rape victim that seeks to prove that the victim had engaged in other sexual behavior. Additionally, a judge may decline to admit any evidence suggesting that the rape victim had sexual predisposition. Such evidences usually have no direct relevance to the case or the crime in question.

The judge is also directed by Rule 412 (b)(1) to admit character evidences that provides specific instances where the rape victim’s sexual behavior proves that a person, different from the defendant, was the source of injury, semen, or other observable evidences.  Judge may also admit evidences proving specific occasions where the victim’s sexual behavior proves the victim’s consent to the sexual act in question.

Conclusion

A judge should consider character evidence just as probative and supportive evidence. This is to direct the general ruling towards the establishment of fair judgments (Weaver, 2004). As much as character evidences may help in just ruling, they can also be misleading. Some people enjoy high regards and good reputations within the society. However, this good reputation of such popularity and wealth do not eliminate the possibility of such individuals committing crimes. Every individual has his/her weaknesses and dark sides.

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