Saturday, February 28, 2009

Due Process and the Victim's (Alleged) Character

The last time I looked, Maine did not allow a criminal defendant to introduce evidence of the alleged victim's character or propensity to show legally-material conduct by the victim -- e.g., to show that the victim was the aggressor (to show that, e.g., defendant assaulted or killed the alleged victim in self-defense).

Is it conceivable that Maine's rule violates a criminal defendant's due process right to a fair hearing and to present a defense?

I think the answer is that no court today would say "yes." But should judges perhaps change their minds about this?

Most states do allow criminal defendants to offer a pertinent character trait of the alleged victim; Maine is the outlier. But do states violate the due process clause, or should they be held to do so, if they refuse (as they do) to allow a defendant to show an alleged victim's propensity by offering evidence of the victim's acts? Testimony that the victim had the reputation of being a violent person doesn't have much punch and in some instances -- depending on the victim's character -- the evidence about the victim's character should have much punch.

Similar questions can be asked about a possible third-party perpetrator, a person who allegedly committed the crime that a defendant is charged with having committed.

N.B. Specific acts, wrongs, or crimes of the alleged victim may find their way into the courtroom even under today's law of evidence. For example, an alleged victim's threats against a defendant accused of murdering the victim are admissible to support a defense such as self-defense. (Such threats are not viewed as a "character trait" or a "propensity.")

the dynamic evidence page

coming soon: the law of evidence on Spindle Law

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