Wednesday, July 8, 2009
The Character Of The Matter, Take 2: Iowa Judge Precludes Specific Act Character Evidence In Murder Trial
Yesterday, I posted an entry about how criminal defendants claiming self-defense generally can present opinion and reputation testimony concerning the victim's character for violence but generally cannot present specific act testimony concerning the victim's character for violence. Well, a current case in Iowa presents another example of this dichotomy.
Christopher Seigfried is currently standing trial in Iowa for the first-degree murder of Clarence Overlhulser. Seigfried does not dispute that he swung a homemade cast iron sword, striking Overhulser on the side of the head with the handle part, cutting four inches deep into the brain, and killing Overlhulser.
Evidence of a person's character or a trait of the person's character is not admissible for the purpose of proving that the person acted in conformity therewith on a particular occasion, except...[i]
a. Reputation or opinion. In all cases in which evidence of character or a trait of character of a person is admissible, proof may be made by testimony as to reputation or by testimony in the form of an opinion. On cross-examination, inquiry is allowable into relevant specific instances of conduct.
b. Specific instances of conduct. In cases in which character or a trait of character of a person is an essential element of a charge, claim, or defense, proof may also be made of specific instances of the person's conduct.
Thus, while Seigfried could have had character witnesses provide reputation and/or opinion testimony concerning Overlhulser's character for violence, those witnesses could not relate their specific unpleasant experiences with him to prove his character for violence (because, as noted yesterday, the victim's character for violence is not an essential element of a self defense claim).