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Character Witnesses Can Be Key to Pittsburgh Criminal Defense

Character Witnesses Can Be Key to Pittsburgh Criminal Defense


As the child sex crimes trial of former Penn State University Assistant Football Coach Jerry Sandusky draws to a close, Pittsburgh criminal defense lawyers are playing every card they've got - and that includes putting six character witnesses on the stand.

When mounting a criminal defense in Pittsburgh, character witnesses can be a key component, particularly if you are trying to show the jury that what you are accused of is either something you would never do or is something that is completely out of character for you. It can also be used to elicit sympathy in the sense of juxtaposing what you are accused of with all the other good you've done with your life.

That's what's happening here. Given the extent of the powerful evidence against him and the first-hand testimony of nine victims, who were underage boys at the time of the alleged abuse, it isn't likely that Sandusky will be acquitted of all charges (though prosecutors did recently drop one of the 51 against him). It would at first glance seem problematic that he hadn't accepted some sort of plea deal. The problem his defense attorneys likely ran into in this case was Sandusky's age. He's 68. While we don't know for sure, we can assume that anything prosecutors would have offered might not have fallen below 20 years. That's essentially a life sentence anyway.

That's likely why his attorneys wanted to push forward with a trial, in the hopes of either being found not-guilty on at least some of the charges or throwing himself upon the mercy of the court. In the latter scenario, character witnesses are going to be crucial.

In this case, more than one testified that it was not uncommon for coaches to shower with children from the Second Mile charity after workouts. In fact, that still goes on, according to at least one of the witnesses. They each expressed surprise at the allegations against him, saying there was no indication to them that something was amiss.

Other character witnesses described Sandusky's reputation as "top-notch" and "exemplary."

While most cases do end in plea deals, if yours does go to trial, your attorney may press you to provide the names of some individuals who could be used to attest to your character. These should be people who:

  • Have known you for a number of years;
  • Do not have a criminal record;
  • Could attest to your truthfulness, your reputation and your integrity;
  • Will be on time to court and will present him or herself well;
  • Will be willing to meet with your lawyer.