Law School Case Brief
Rogers v. United States - 566 A.2d 69 (D.C. 1989)
The past cross-examination of witnesses to reputation for good character concerning a defendant's past arrests is proper when the trial court allows such examination in the careful exercise of its discretion.
In the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, defendant Michael Rogers was convicted of distribution of phencyclidine ("PCP") and cannabis. After testifying in his own behalf at the trial on distribution charges, Rogers presented two witnesses to attest to his good character for truth and veracity. Thereafter, the Government sought to use Rogers' three juvenile arrests on charges involving moral turpitude to impeach the reputation witnesses. Initially, the trial court refused the evidence on the basis of an assessment of prejudicial effect versus probative value, but ultimately ruled that the Government could question the character witnesses about Rogers' juvenile arrests. A jury found Rogers guilty. Rogers appealed, challenging the exclusion of "negative evidence" of his good reputation and the cross-examination of his character witnesses as to his prior juvenile arrests. The majority of a division of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals rejected both challenges and voted to affirm. The court later granted rehearing en banc, and it considered only the issue regarding use of Rogers' prior juvenile arrests.
Was it error for the trial court to permit the Government to question the character witnesses about Rogers' juvenile arrests?
The court affirmed Rogers' convictions, holding that the trial court, in the exercise of its sound discretion, could permit the use Rogers' juvenile arrests to cross-examine his witnesses on the issue of his good character. The court found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing such testimony where the trial court held a bench conference outside the presence of the jury, weighed the prejudicial effect of such cross-examination against its probative value, and provided the defense with every opportunity to present facts and arguments in opposition to such cross-examination, including any indications that the juvenile arrests which were not publicly known. In addition to the issue raised by Rogers' appeal, the court went on to expand the scope of permissible character testimony beyond the then-currently permitted reputation testimony to include the witness' opinion about the relevant character trait, in accordance with Fed. R. Evid. 405.
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