Character Evidence

From Criminal Law Notebook


Character evidence is evidence that invites the trier of fact to make an inference that the person is of a certain "type", thus inferring that the person acted consistently with that type of character. Character evidence can often become prejudicial, particularly for the accused, and so must be taken with care.

Exclusionary Rule

At common law, there is an exclusionary rule for general character evidence.[1] This exclusionary is on the basis that character evidence is not probative of anything.[2]

The typical use of character evidence is to establish propensity. This imports certain dangers.[3]

Self-Serving Evidence

Self-serving character evidence presented to simply bolster the credibility and reliability of a witness is of little value and is in danger of being fabricated.[4]

  1. R v Handy, 2002 SCC 56 (CanLII) (working hyperlinks pending), per Binnie J, at para 36 ("The exclusion of evidence of general propensity or disposition has been repeatedly affirmed in this Court and is not controversial")
    R v Morris, 1983 CanLII 28 (SCC), [1983] 2 SCR 190, per McIntyre J
    R v Morin, 1988 CanLII 8 (SCC), [1988] 2 SCR 345, per Sopinka J
    R v B(CR), 1990 CanLII 142 (SCC), [1990] 1 SCR 717, per McLachlin J
    R v Arp, 1998 CanLII 769 (SCC), [1998] 3 SCR 339, per Cory J
  2. R v Vant, 2015 ONCA 481 (CanLII), 324 CCC (3d) 109, per Watt JA, at para 64 ("The principal reason that underlies this general exclusionary rule is that the evidence lacks probative value. Character traits, after all, are more dynamic than static, and vary over time and across situations and individuals.")
  3. R v Handy, 2002 SCC 56 (CanLII), [2002] 2 SCR 908, per Binnie J
  4. R v P(G), 1996 CanLII 420 (ON CA), 112 CCC (3d) 263, per Rosenberg JA
    R v J(FE), 1989 CanLII 7131 (ON CA), 53 CCC (3d) 64, per Galligan JA


See Also