The law on Evidence is really an interesting topic actually. There are all these concepts governing the procedural aspects of evidence in court, like whether it is admissible. The rule of thumb is that an evidence is relevant so long as it has probative value to the issues at hand, but may be excluded if the judge deems that the prejudicial effects of the evidence outweighs its probative force. So for example, a person’s bad character would not be admissible because it would prejudice the jury into assigning greater weight in their evaluation of the accused’s guilt than what might have been so should the evidence not have been admitted. But there are the catches. For example, prosecution is allowed to adduce evidence of an accused’s bad character if the defence raises arguments bolstering the defendant’s good character. The rationale is that the prosecution should be allowed to attack the accused’s character if it is part of the case of the defence that the accused’s good character makes it less likely that he committed the crime.
I have some thoughts about this. The first one is whether evidence in favour of the accused’s good character should be admitted in the court of law in the first place. Isn’t evidence of good character similarly prejudicial as evidence of bad character? So let’s say, a person accused of committing a crime has a record of being a good public citizen like participating in community works or things like that. How does this exactly help the defence case that the accused has not committed the crime in question? If it is going to be argued that it is less likely that someone of upright reputation or standing in his community has less likelihood of committing a crime, then why can’t it be similarly argued that someone of bad reputation has a greater likelihood of committing a crime.
Perhaps the rationale for allowing good character evidence in the first place is because it has indeed great probative force in the defence case that the accused did not commit the crime, whilst this does not apply so much to bad character evidence. No one is totally all bad or good. But if he is generally good, he will not do bad. While if there are some bad in a person, it does not mean that he is all bad throughout.
But if this is the case, then shouldn’t there be circumstances whereby a defendant should be allowed to adduce evidence of his good character, without entire records of his misdemeanor or mud-slinging allegations by any Tom, Dick, or Harry, to be casted upon him? As the law is, once the defendant decides to present evidence of his good character, the gloves are off, and either the prosecution or the co-accused can impugn the accused’s character.