Criminal Law

351. Cross-Examination of Character Witness

The attorney for the People was allowed to ask defendant's character witness[es] if (he/she/they) had heard that the defendant had engaged in certain conduct. These "have you heard" questions and their answers are not evidence that the defendant engaged in any such conduct. You may consider these questions and answers only to evaluate the meaning and importance of (the/a) character witness's testimony.

Bench Notes

Instructional Duty

The court has no sua sponte duty to give an instruction on cross-examination of character witnesses; however it must be given on request. (People v. Hempstead (1983) 148 Cal.App.3d 949, 954 [196 Cal.Rptr. 412] [when cross-examination of character witness is permitted, a limiting admonition should be given]; Evid. Code, § 355.)


Instructional Requirements. People v. Hempstead (1983) 148 Cal.App.3d 949, 954 [196 Cal.Rptr. 412]; People v. Eli (1967) 66 Cal.2d 63, 79 [56 Cal.Rptr. 916, 424 P.2d 356].

Secondary Sources

3 Witkin, California Evidence (4th ed. 2000) Presentation, § 243.

4 Millman, Sevilla & Tarlow, California Criminal Defense Practice, Ch. 82, Witnesses, § 82.22[3][d], Ch. 85, Submission to Jury and Verdict, § 85.02[2][b], Ch. 87, Death Penalty, § 87.23[5] (Matthew Bender).

(New January 2006)