Rule 405 Victim Character Evidence As Element of Self-Defense In Arizona
In Arizona, a victim's character is not an essential element of self-defense. Williams, 141 Ariz. at 129, 685 P.2d at 766 (applying Lehman's analysis to evidence of specific instances of conduct by a victim and holding that Rule 405 prohibited admission of the evidence when the victim's character was not essential to the defense claimed).
See also Santanna, 153 Ariz. at 149, 735 P.2d at 759 (victim's character not an essential element of defense; but opinion unclear whether this was because defendant was no longer claiming self-defense).
That a victim's character is not an essential element also appears to be the general view and is consistent with interpretation of the analogous Federal Rule of Evidence, upon which Arizona Rule of Evidence 405 is based. Adams, supra at 413 and n.54 (majority view); 2 Weinstein 405.054, at 41-45. (character of victim is not essential element for self-defense); Lehman, 126 Ariz. at 391, 616 P.2d at 66 (federal rule is analogous to the state rule and using the Advisory Committee's Notes to the federal rules to interpret the state rule). Cf. Adjutant, 824 N.E.2d at 11 & n.15 (noting that federal courts only permit general reputation evidence to prove first aggressor claim and that state courts are split on whether victim's character is essential element of defense).
As explained in State v. Jenewicz, 193 N.J. 440, 940 A.2d 269, 281 (N.J. 2008), an essential element extends only to elements a party must prove "to make out a prima facie case for a claim or defense.
An accused can assert self-defense successfully without offering any evidence regarding a victim's character.
Therefore, character evidence cannot be regarded as 'essential'."
Courts and commentators widely interpret the analogous Federal Rules of Evidence as prohibiting defendants from introducing specific act evidence to show that the victim of a crime was the initial aggressor.