Criminal Law

350. Character of Defendant

You have heard character testimony that the defendant (is a <insert character trait> person/ [or] has a good reputation for <insert character trait> in the community where (he/she) lives or works).

You may take that testimony into consideration along with all the other evidence in deciding whether the People have proved that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Evidence of the defendant's character for <insert character trait> can by itself create a reasonable doubt. However, evidence of the defendant's good character may be countered by evidence of (his/her) bad character for the same trait. You must decide the meaning and importance of the character evidence.

[If the defendant's character for certain traits has not been discussed among those who know (him/her), you may assume that (his/her) character for those traits is good.]

Bench Notes

Instructional Duty

The court has no sua sponte duty to give an instruction on defendant's character; however, it must be given on request. (People v. Bell (1875) 49 Cal. 485, 489-490 [jury should be instructed that evidence of good reputation should be weighed as any other fact established and may be sufficient to create reasonable doubt of guilt]; People v. Jones (1954) 42 Cal.2d 219, 222 [266 P.2d 38] [character evidence may be sufficient to create reasonable doubt of guilt]; People v. Wilson (1913) 23 Cal.App. 513, 523-524 [138 P. 971] [court erred in failing to give requested instruction or any instruction on character evidence].)


Instructional Requirements. People v. Bell (1875) 49 Cal. 485, 489- 490; People v. Wilson (1913) 23 Cal.App. 513, 523-524 [138 P. 971]; People v. Jones (1954) 42 Cal.2d 219, 222 [266 P.2d 38].

Admissibility. Evid. Code, §§ 1100-1102.

Secondary Sources

1 Witkin, California Evidence (4th ed. 2000) Circumstantial Evidence, § 53.

4 Millman, Sevilla & Tarlow, California Criminal Defense Practice, Ch. 82, Witnesses, § 82.22[3][d], [e][ii], Ch. 83, Evidence, § 83.12[1] (Matthew Bender).

Related Issues

No Discussion of Character Is Evidence of Good Character

The fact that the defendant's character or reputation has not been discussed or questioned among those who know him or her is evidence of the defendant's good character and reputation. (People v. Castillo (1935) 5 Cal.App.2d 194, 198 [42 P.2d 682].) However, the defendant must have resided in the community for a sufficient period of time and become acquainted with the community in order for his or her character to have become known and for some sort of reputation to have been established. (See Evid. Code, § 1324 [reputation may be shown in the community where defendant resides and in a group with which he or she habitually associates]; see also People v. Pauli (1922) 58 Cal.App. 594, 596 [209 P. 88] [witness's testimony about defendant's good reputation in community was inappropriate where defendant was a stranger in the community, working for a single employer for a few months, going about little, and forming no associations].)

Business Community

The community for purposes of reputation evidence may also be the defendant's business community and associates. (People v. Cobb (1955) 45 Cal.2d 158, 163 [287 P.2d 752].)

(New January 2006)