Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

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This compendium includes significant criminal cases by the U.S. Supreme Court & N.C. appellate courts, Nov. 2008 – Present. Selected 4th Circuit cases also are included.

Jessica Smith prepared case summaries Nov. 2008-June 4, 2019; later summaries are prepared by other School staff.

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E.g., 09/22/2021
E.g., 09/22/2021

The trial court properly denied the defendant’s motion to suppress a victim’s identification of the defendant as the perpetrator. The defendant was charged with armed robbery of a Game Stop store and threatening use of a firearm against a store employee, Cintron, during the robbery. Although Cintron failed to identify an alleged perpetrator in a photographic lineup shown to him two days after the robbery, he later identified the defendant when shown a single still-frame photograph obtained from the store’s surveillance video. Cintron then identified the defendant as the perpetrator in the same photographic lineup shown to him two days after the robbery and again in four close-up, post-arrest photographs of the defendant showing his neck tattoos. The defendant unsuccessfully moved to suppress Cintron’s in-court and out-of-court identifications.

          On appeal the defendant argued that the State conducted an impermissibly suggestive pretrial identification procedure that created a substantial likelihood of misidentification. The court rejected that argument, finding that the trial court’s challenged findings and conclusions—that the authorities substantially followed statutory and police department policies in each photo lineup and that the substance of any deviation from those policies revolved around the defendant’s neck tattoos—are supported by the evidence. The defendant fit the victim’s initial description of the perpetrator, which emphasized a tattoo of an Asian symbol on the left side of his neck and notable forehead creases. Based on this description, the victim had the ability to identify the defendant both in court and in photographs reflecting a close-up view of the defendant’s tattoos, and he specifically testified to his ability to recognize the defendant as the perpetrator independent of any lineup or photo he had been shown. Thus, the trial court’s ultimate conclusion—that the procedures did not give rise to a substantial likelihood that the defendant was mistakenly identified—is supported by the totality of the circumstances indicating that the identification was sufficiently reliable.

The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the identification procedure used violated the Eyewitness Identification Reform Act (EIRA). Although a non-independent administrator was used, the administrator satisfied the requirements of G.S. 15A-284.52(c) for such administrators (he used the folder method specified in the statute). Additionally, the administrator met the other requirements of the EIRA. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that plain error occurred because the administrator could not identify the specific five filler photographs that were used out of the seven total selected for the lineup. The court concluded that the administrator’s failure to recall which of the five filler photographs were used went to the weight of his testimony, not its admissibility. The court went on to hold that the trial court did not err by admitting the filler photographs into evidence.

(1) In a store robbery case, the court found no plain error in the trial court's determination that a photo lineup was not impermissibly suggestive. The defendant argued that the photo lineup was impermissibly suggestive because one of the officers administering the procedure was involved in the investigation, and that officer may have made unintentional movements or body language which could have influenced the eyewitness. The court noted that the eyewitness (a store employee) was 75% certain of his identification; the investigating officer’s presence was the only irregularity in the procedure; the eyewitness did not describe any suggestive actions on the part of the investigating officer; and there was no testimony from the officers to indicate such. Also, the lineup was conducted within days of the crime. The perpetrator was in the store for 45-50 minutes and spoke with the employee several times. (2) The trial court did not commit plain error by granting the defendant relief under the Eyewitness Identification Reform Act (EIRA) but not excluding evidence of a pretrial identification. The trial court found that an EIRA violation occurred because one of the officers administering the procedure was involved in the investigation. The court concluded: “We are not persuaded that the trial court committed plain error by granting Defendant all other available remedies under EIRA, rather than excluding the evidence.”

Pretrial photographic line-ups were not suggestive, on the facts.

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