Perrin v. Anderson
784 F.2d 1040 (1986)

  • 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 rights.
    • 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 appealed.
  • 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 or defense.
        • 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.