In Florida, when a defendant is charged with a violent crime, such as battery, aggravated assault or murder, the defendant’s criminal defense lawyer may present evidence at the trial that the victim had a reputation for violence in the community. Normally, such evidence about a victim’s character is not admissible at the trial. However, in some cases, the victim’s character may be admissible. One example is in a self defense case. However, there is a condition that must be met before that evidence of the victim’s violent reputation is admissible. The defendant must first establish that the victim committed some violent or threatening act around the time of the incident that caused the defendant to act as he did. Once that foundation for a self defense claim is laid, the defendant can then present evidence of the victim’s reputation for violence.
Under Florida law, the reason for allowing a criminal defense attorney to present evidence of the victim’s reputation for violence in a self defense case is to support the defendant’s claim that the victim was the initial aggressor and the defendant was justified in using force in self defense. The evidence of the victim’s violent reputation helps prove that the victim acted consistently with his reputation in this case. Therefore, there is no requirement that the defendant prove that he/she actually knew of the victim’s violent reputation before that reputation evidence can be admitted into evidence.
However, this last part is different in a self defense case where the criminal defense lawyer is seeking to introduce evidence of specific acts of violence committed by the victim prior to the incident in question. Prior specific acts of violence by the victim may be relevant to show that the defendant was reasonably in fear of the victim in this case and used force against the victim as a result. Because this evidence relates to the defendant’s state of mind, i.e. his/her legitimate fear of the victim, the defendant must establish that he/she was aware of the victim’s prior acts of violence before they are admitted at the trial.