Character Evidence and the Object of Trial
Evidence of an individual’s character may not in general be offered to prove that she acted in conformity with that character on a particular occasion. Most analyses of this general rule—and its many exceptions—start from the premise that trial is at heart an exercise in finding facts. Yet a clear and robust rationale for the rules governing character evidence has yet to be found on this basis. This article views trial and character evidence in a different light. Trial is regarded as but one part of the overall mechanism by which the state regulates behavior in the larger world outside the courtroom. The article focuses specifically on trial’s role in the provision of incentives that induce individuals to account for the welfare of others in their daily activities. It is shown that the rules governing character evidence are much easier to explain—and so more fruitfully evaluated—when trial is explicitly placed in this broader context. From this finding the article draws the larger lesson that the real object of trial lies more in shaping events than sorting them out after the fact.
Chris W. Sanchirico. "Character Evidence and the Object of Trial" Columbia Law Review 101 (2001): 1227.