Perrin was involved in a traffic accident, left his car at
the side of the road, and walked home. Two policemen (Anderson and
VonSchriltz) came by to question him on what happened, and ended up
shooting him dead. His heirs sued for a violation of Perrin's civil
The policemen argued that Perrin was acting erratically
and attacked them.
At trial, Anderson attempted to introduce testimony from
four other policemen who claimed that they'd had violent encounters with
Perrin in the past.
Perrin's heirs objected on the grounds that this
testimony was inadmissible.
Anderson argued that the evidence was to establish that
Perrin had an irrational fear and hatred of uniformed policemen. That
would be admissible under FRE 404(a) and FRE 406.
The Trial Judge allowed the testimony to be entered into
evidence under both FRE 404(a) and FRE 406.
The Trial Court found for Anderson. Perrin's heirs
The Appellate Court affirmed that it was admissible under FRE
406, and reversed that it was admissible under FRE 404(a).
The Appellate Court differentiated between character
evidence (FRE 404(a)), and habits (FRE 406).
The Court found that FRE 405(a) prohibited
evidence to show Perrin's character.
The Court found that character evidence was
admissible in this case, but testimony about previous specific incidents
was not admissible.
FRE 405(a) says that you can prove character by
reputation or opinion.
FRE 405(b) says that you can prove character by
specific instances of conduct. However, it is only admissible if the
character of a person is an essential element of a charge claim
That means you can use it for a defamation case, where
the character of the plaintiff is the core issue of the case, but you
cannot use it just to prove that a person acted in conformity with the
character trait (which is what Anderson was trying to do here.)
The Court found that FRE 406 allowed evidence to
show Perrin's habits.
The Court noted that the limitations that FRE 405
places on FRE 404(a) do not apply to FRE 406.
The Court found that the evidence was admissible to show
that Perrin had a habit of routinely attacking policemen.
Character and habit are very similar.
Character is a generalized description of one's disposition, such as
honesty or peacefulness. Habit is more specific. It describes one's
regular response to a repeated specific situation.
A person who had a habit of never wearing a
seatbelt might be said to have the character trait of
recklessness. Based on the FRE, there might be a situation where
it was admissible to say that someone never wore a seatbelt, but
inadmissible to say that they were a reckless person.