Character Witnesses: Should You Use Them in Your Washington Criminal Trial?

After you get arrested for a crime in Washington state, the only thing you’re focused on is beating your charges. During the criminal justice process, you and your attorney must do everything possible to prevent the state from proving, beyond a reasonable doubt, that you committed the crime(s) of which you are accused. 

One way you might be able to help your case—most often at bail hearings, sentencing, or through conversations with prosecutors—is by using character evidence.

What Are Character Witnesses?

A character witness is someone you know; a friend, relative, or business colleague, to give a few examples. During a criminal trial, character witnesses may only attest to a defendant’s reputation in the community regarding a relevant character trait. Depending on the nature of your criminal charges, an ideal character witness might attest to your honesty, your nonviolence or calm demeanor, to name a few. Bringing character witnesses before the jury, however, is not an opportunity to gather everyone who will to say nice things about you, or offer an opinion on your innocence. 

Three Considerations Before Calling Character Witnesses

For one, it might be hard for a character witness to actually have an effect on the jury. Juries expect a defendant’s personal acquaintances to come down on the defendant’s side.

Another important consideration is that putting a character witness on the stand opens the door for the prosecution to rebut the claims of your witness. That means the prosecution might present evidence of instances where your prior behavior arguably falls out of line with the character witness’s statements. Also, any witnesses you call to the stand may be cross-examined by the prosecution.

Yet another final consideration is that your character witnesses are only allowed to attest to character traits relevant to your criminal charges as far as your reputation goes. There must be a discreet COMMUNITY and REPUTATION. If, for example, the state charges you with theft, you might not be able to bring a character witness who attests to your friendliness or work history. 

Ultimately, your job during your criminal trial is to cast doubt on the prosecution’s case. Your attorney will do that by influencing the people who need to be—and can be—influenced. Before you and your attorney decide to use character witnesses in your case, however, a number of considerations need to be addressed.

Because of the strict rules surrounding use of character witnesses in criminal trials, Burke Brown Attorneys, PLLC most often uses character evidence letters in other stages of the criminal justice process. Our team uses character evidence in protection order proceedings much more often than in criminal trials. 

Experienced Counsel is Your Best Resource

An experienced attorney will make an informed decision about whether or not to call character witnesses as part of your defense strategy. Burke Brown Attorneys, PLLC defend clients accused of wrongdoing in and around King County, Washington. Our strategy will address your entire situation, including your goals and available resources. We will figure out the best course of action and aggressively execute the strategy best-suited for you. Contact us today to get started on your defense.

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Burke Brown Attorneys, PLLC

The first step of our approach here at Burke Brown Attorneys, PLLC? Listening to you explain your legal situation. Our attorneys have nearly 40 years of combined experience in successfully defending people against the most serious accusations.

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