The Mercy Rule: An Ironic Word for a chaotic System

When one hears about the term “Mercy” they are often thinking about the concept of forgiveness and understanding. However, in the world of law, this term has a deceptive meeting that can be the death nail of the defendant in a criminal case. iStock_000003965027_Large (2)

According to the Federal Rules of Evidence, the “Mercy Rule” is a unique mechanism that comes into play when dealing with character evidence. The Mercy rule is a principle of evidence law which allows a criminal defendant to offer character evidence as a defense to a criminal charge. It permits a criminal defendant to introduce evidence of pertinent character traits of the victim because the accused, whose liberty is at stake, may need a counterweight against the strong investigative and prosecution resources of the government.

When we see the Mercy Rule come into play it is generally employed as a tool that the Defendant will attempt to use to gain favor with the jury. While many people do not know is that it is actually the client that will make the decision of whether or not they want to take the stand at their own trial or whether or not they can employ a character witness. With that being stated, many defendants do not realize the danger of placing a character witness on the stand and this writing will help you to be aware of such dangers.

With character evidence, there are three flavors of evidence that can be utilized and those are: Opinion, reputation and specific instances of conduct. Opinion or reputation speaks of the defendant in very broad generalities. The defendant will in essence have someone vouch for them that they are a good person but the character witness is limited to speak of them broadly and cannot branch into specific instances of conduct. What is lost upon many is that once the defendant places character evidence into play, the prosecution now has the opportunity to utilize specific instances of conduct and this presents a very dangerous area for the defendant. The rules of evidence become relaxed and the scope of relevancy becomes expanded in this situation. By placing character into evidence, the defendant could potentially destroy their own case by having the prosecutor use specific instances of conduct to prove their case and what once looked like a promising idea could end up being a disaster for the defendant.

The Grabel Law Firm has excelled is their understanding of procedure and have become a top criminal defense firm in the state of Michigan. For help with criminal matters give us a call or shoot us an e-mail.