A trained undercover state police officer has purchased heroin from a seller (herein respondent) through the open doorway of an apartment. Subsequently, the police undercover described the seller to another police officer as being a colored man, approximately five feet eleven inches tall, dark complexion, black hair, short Afro style, and having high cheekbones, and of heavy build. A New York Family Lawyer said such other police officer, suspecting from the description that respondent might be the seller, then left a police photograph of respondent at the office of the police undercover, who viewed it two days later and identified it as the picture of the seller.
Consequently, respondent was charged with possession and sale of heroin, a drug crime in violation of the criminal law.
At trial, the aforesaid photograph was received in evidence without objection and the police undercover testified that there was no doubt that the person shown in the photograph was respondent and also made a positive in-court identification without objection.
The seller was convicted of the crime.
The Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s decision.
The seller, now respondent, filed a petition for habeas corpus in the Federal District Court. He alleges that the admission of the identification testimony at his state trial deprived him of due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The District Court dismissed the petition, but the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that evidence as to the photograph should have been excluded, regardless of reliability, because the examination of the single photograph was unnecessary and suggestive, and that the identification was unreliable in any event.
Issue: Should the identification be excluded as evidence for violation of the due process clause?
The high court held that the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment does not compel the exclusion of the identification evidence.
A New York Custody Lawyer under the law, reliability is the linchpin in determining the admissibility of identification testimony for confrontation. The determination of a violation of the due process clause depends on the totality of the circumstances. The factors to be weighed against the corrupting effect of the suggestive procedure in assessing reliability have been set out by the court in its rulings, and include the witness’ opportunity to view the criminal at the time of the crime, the witness’ degree of attention, the accuracy of his prior description of the criminal, the level of certainty demonstrated at the confrontation, and the time between the crime and the confrontation.
It must be noted that under the totality of the circumstances, there is no substantial likelihood of irreparable misidentification. The police undercover was not a casual observer but a trained police officer who had a sufficient opportunity to view the suspect, accurately described him, positively identified respondent’s photograph as that of the suspect, and made the photograph identification only two days after the crime. The police undercover, as a specially trained, assigned, and experienced officer, is expected to pay scrupulous attention to detail, for he knew that subsequently he would have to find and arrest his vendor. In addition, he knew that his claimed observations would be subject later to close scrutiny and examination at any trial.
On the accuracy of description, it was given to another police officer within minutes after the transaction. It included the vendor’s race, his height, his build, the color and style of his hair, and the high cheekbone facial feature. It also included clothing the vendor wore. No claim has been made that respondent did not possess the physical characteristics so described.
The aforementioned indicators of the ability of the police undercover to make an accurate identification are hardly outweighed by the corrupting effect of the challenged identification itself. A Nassau County Family Lawyer said that although identifications arising from single-photograph displays may be viewed in general with suspicion, there is little pressure on the witness to acquiesce in the suggestion that such a display entails. The photograph was viewed by the undercover after two days and was examined by him alone; there was no coercive pressure to make an identification arising from the presence of another. The identification was made in circumstances allowing care and reflection.
Moreover, a perusal of the facts dictates that respondent was arrested in the very apartment where the undercover sale had taken place, and that the police undercover acknowledged his frequent visits to that apartment.
A Queens Family Lawyer said that accordingly, there was no violation of the due process clause; the identification is admissible in evidence.
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