Rule on evidence based on character or reputation

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Persida Acosta

Dear PAO,
I was charged with the crime of theft by my neighbor. It is, however, known in our community that my neighbor has the tendency to fabricate lies and file baseless suits just to harass and malign the reputation of others. I want to know if I can use such character or reputation of his as evidence in court.
Sincerely yours,
Gaston

Dear Gaston,
The law that addresses your situation is Section 51, Rule 130 of the Revised Rules on Evidence, Rules of Court:

“SEC 51. Character evidence not generally admissible; exceptions:

(a) In Criminal Cases:

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(1) X x x.

(2) X x x.

(3) The good or bad moral character of the offended party may be proved if it tends to establish in any reasonable degree the probability or improbability of the offense charged. xxx”

Related to this is the case of People of the Philippines vs. Noel Lee (G.R. No. 139070, May 29, 2002), penned by former Chief Justice Reynato Puno that elucidates the essence of character evidence, viz:

“Character is defined to be the possession by a person of certain qualities of mind and morals, distinguishing him from others. It is the opinion generally entertained of a person derived from the common report of the people who are acquainted with him; his reputation. Good moral character includes all the elements essential to make up such a character; among these are common honesty and veracity, especially in all professional intercourse; a character that measures up as good among people of the community in which the person lives, or that is up to the standard of the average citizen; that status which attaches to a man of good behavior and upright conduct.

“The rule is that the character or reputation of a party is regarded as legally irrelevant in determining a controversy, so that evidence relating thereto is not admissible. Ordinarily, if the issues in the case were allowed to be influenced by evidence of the character or reputation of the parties, the trial would be apt to have the aspects of a popularity contest rather than a factual inquiry into the merits of the case. After all, the business of the court is to try the case, and not the man; and a very bad man may have a righteous cause. There are exceptions to this rule however and Section 51, Rule 130 gives the exceptions in both criminal and civil cases.” (Emphasis supplied)

In your situation, the character of your neighbor is relevant considering the same may suggest the probability or improbability of the offense charged. Hence, his penchant for fabricating lies against others and his reputation to file baseless suits against his enemies may negate his charge of theft against you as this may also suggest that your case is a mere fabrication.

We find it necessary to mention that this opinion is solely based on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. The opinion may vary when the facts are changed or elaborated.

We hope that we were able to enlighten you on the matter.

Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to dearpao@manilatimes.net.

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