Evidence – Character Testimony – Impeachment Through Reference to Prior Specific Acts of Defendant

Defendant, on trial for arson, presented a character witness who testified that defendant’s reputation in the community was good. During cross-examination the prosecutor asked if the witness had heard that defendant had been arrested for or convicted of various specific crimes in other states. No objection was made by the defense, and the trial judge took no action. The witness answered no to each question, and subsequently a jury verdict of guilty was returned. On appeal, held, reversed and remanded, three judges dissenting. Failure of the trial judge, before allowing such cross-examination, to ascertain on his own motion and out of the presence of the jury the actuality of the arrests or convictions, the time of their occurrence and their relevance to the question of reputation, and the failure of the trial judge properly to instruct the jury to limit its consideration of the prosecutor’s questions solely to the weight of the character testimony deprived defendant of a fair trial. People v. Dorrikas, 354 Mich. 303, 92 N.W. (2d) 305 (1958).