Character is a general quality usually attributed to a person. Character cannot be used to show that someone acted on a particular occasion in conformity with a particular character trait. On the other hand, habit can be used that way. A habit is a behavior; it is specific, regular, and consistently repeated. Occasionally, some character traits can be linked with a habit, so the distinction between the two can be hard to make at times.

In civil cases, evidence that a person has a character trait generally cannot be used to prove that the person acted in conformity with that character trait on a particular occasion. Evidence of character may be proved where it is an integral issue in a dispute or where a party puts character in issue. Evidence of character is used frequently in criminal trials during the sentencing stage to show that a convicted defendant merits a lesser or greater sentence or other penalty.

Inside Character