708.12Reputation as to Character [Rule 803(21)]

Last Updated: 12/01/23

Key Concepts

  • Evidence about the reputation of a person’s character is not barred by the hearsay rules.
  • However, the admissibility of evidence regarding a person’s character is more specifically limited by several other rules of evidence (e.g., rules on impeachment generally, habit or routine, prior bad acts, religious beliefs, and sexual history).

The Basic Rule

Rule 803(21) – Reputation as to Character

Reputation of a person's character among his associates or in the community.

G.S. 8C-803(21).

Admissibility and Scope

Rule 803(21) is premised on the “the traditional acceptance of reputation evidence as a means of proving human character.” G.S. 8C-803(21), Official Commentary. See, e.g., State v. Wall, 87 N.C. App. 621 (1987) (no error where state cross-examined defense witnesses about rumors of defendant’s affair with a teenager after witnesses had testified about defendant’s “general reputation” on direct examination; although the reputation questions "concerned hearsay statements they were not banned by the general rule against hearsay. G.S. 8C-1, Rule 803(21).”).

However, Rule 803(21) “deals only with the hearsay aspect of this kind of evidence,” and “limitations upon admissibility based on other grounds will be found in Rules 404, relevancy of character evidence generally, and 608, character of witness.” G.S. 8C-803(21), Official Commentary.

For more information about the admissibility of evidence regarding character or reputation in particular situations, see the following related Evidence entries:  

i) Character Generally [Rule 404(a)]

ii) Other Crimes, Wrongs or Acts [Rule 404(b)]

iii) Proving Character [Rule 405]

iv) Habit or Routine [Rule 406]

v) Sex Offenses: Victim’s Past Behavior [Rule 412]

vi) Impeachment: Character and Conduct [Rule 608]

vii) Impeachment: Religious Beliefs [Rule 610]

Portions of this entry were excerpted from Jessica Smith, “Criminal Evidence: Hearsay,” North Carolina Superior Court Judges’ Benchbook, October 2013.