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., 09/21/2021
E.g., 09/21/2021

The Due Process Clause does not require a preliminary judicial inquiry into the reliability of an eyewitness identification when the identification was not procured under unnecessarily suggestive circumstances arranged by law enforcement. New Hampshire police received a call reporting that an African-American male was trying to break into cars parked in the lot of the caller’s apartment building. When an officer responding to the call asked eyewitness Nubia Blandon to describe the man, Blandon, who was standing in her apartment building just outside the open door to her apartment, pointed to her kitchen window and said the man she saw breaking into the car was standing in the parking lot, next to a police officer. Petitioner Perry, who was that person, was arrested. About a month later, when the police showed Blandon a photographic array that included a picture of Perry and asked her to point out the man who had broken into the car, she was unable to identify Perry. At trial Perry unsuccessfully moved to suppress Blandon’s identification on the ground that admitting it would violate due process. The Court began by noting that an identification infected by improper police influence is not automatically excluded. Instead, the Court explained, the trial judge must screen the evidence for reliability pretrial. If there is a very substantial likelihood of irreparable misidentification, the judge must disallow presentation of the evidence at trial. But, it continued, if the indicia of reliability are strong enough to outweigh the corrupting effect of the police-arranged suggestive circumstances, the identification evidence ordinarily will be admitted, and the jury will ultimately determine its worth. In this case, Perry asked the Court to extend pretrial screening for reliability to cases in which the suggestive circumstances were not arranged by law enforcement officers because of the grave risk that mistaken identification will yield a miscarriage of justice. The Court declined to do so, holding: “When no improper law enforcement activity is involved . . . it suffices to test reliability through the rights and opportunities generally designed for that purpose, notably, the presence of counsel at postindictment lineups, vigorous cross-examination, protective rules of evidence, and jury instructions on both the fallibility of eyewitness identification and the requirement that guilt be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.” Justice Thomas filed a concurring opinion. Justice Sotomayor dissented.

Two men were angry about being cheated in a drug deal. They approached a house and shot two other men – one fatally – who they thought were involved in the rip-off. The victims were on the front porch at the time of the shooting. Two women who were also on the porch viewed photo lineups in an attempt to identify the perpetrators. They both identified one suspect. Neither identified the defendant as the other man, though one said that his picture “looked like” the suspect. The defendant was charged with murder and other offenses. Several years later, a legal assistant with the district attorney’s office asked the women to come to the office for trial preparation. The legal assistant showed the women part of the defendant’s video-recorded interview with police as well as updated pictures of the defendant. One of the women looked out the window and saw the defendant, in a jail uniform and handcuffs, being led into the courthouse for a hearing. She immediately stated that he was one of the killers. The other woman came to the window and also saw the defendant. Both women later identified the defendant at trial as one of the perpetrators. The defendant argued that the identification was tainted by what he contended was a suggestive identification procedure conducted by the legal assistant. The trial judge found that the procedure was not unduly suggestive, and that in any event, the women’s in court testimony was based on their independent recollection of the events in question. The defendant was convicted and appealed. The court of appeals found the procedure to be impermissibly suggestive and reversed the defendant’s conviction. The State appealed, and the supreme court ruled: (1) The trial preparation session was an “impermissibly suggestive” identification procedure. Given that the women had not previously identified the defendant as a participant in the crime, the legal assistant’s “actions in showing [the women] the video of [the defendant’s] interview and recent photographs of [the defendant and the co-defendant] are exactly the kind of highly suggestive procedures that have been widely condemned as inherently suggestive” and amounted to improper “witness coaching.” (2) However, the procedure did not give “rise to a substantial likelihood of irreparable misidentification . . . because the trial court’s findings of fact support the legal conclusion that [one of the women’s] in-court identification of defendant was of independent origin and sufficiently reliable.” Among other factors, the court highlighted the woman’s proximity to the perpetrators, her opportunity to observe them, and the fact that when she saw a picture of the defendant online shortly after the crime – wearing his hair in a style different from his lineup photo and apparently more similar to his appearance at the time of the crime – she identified him as a perpetrator. (3) Because one of the women made a valid in-court identification, any error in admitting the other woman’s identification of the defendant was harmless. Three Justices, dissenting in part, would not have addressed whether the procedure at issue was unduly suggestive and would have decided the case based only on the “independent origin” holding.

In this murder and attempted murder case, an officer responded to the shooting at the victim’s apartment. Upon arrival, he saw a man running with a towel in his hands and gave chase. The officer could not catch the man and instead found one of the victims, the defendant’s ex-girlfriend. She was able to describe the assailant and provide his name. The officer then located a DMV picture of the suspect and identified the defendant as the person he saw running earlier. The defendant sought to suppress this identification as a violation of the Eyewitness Identification Reform Act (“EIRA”). Specifically, the defendant argued the officer failed to conduct the “show-up” in accord with EIRA procedure. The trial court denied the motion and the court of appeals affirmed. The EIRA applies to “live lineups, photo lineups, and show-ups.” “Here, the inadvertent out-of-court identification of defendant, based on a single DMV photo accessed by an investigating officer, was neither a lineup or a show-up under the EIRA, and thus not subject to those statutory protections.” Even if the identification was suggestive, there was no substantial likelihood of misidentification under the facts of the case, and the denial of the motion was affirmed.

The trial court did not err by admitting in-court identification of the defendant by two officers. The defendant argued that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress the officers’ in-court identifications because the procedure they used to identify him violated the Eyewitness Identification Reform Act (EIRA) and his constitutional due process rights. After the officers observed the defendant at the scene, they returned to the police station and put the suspect’s name into their computer database. When a picture appeared, both officers identified the defendant as the perpetrator. The officers then pulled up another photograph of the defendant and confirmed that he was the perpetrator. This occurred within 10-15 minutes of the incident in question. The court concluded that the identification based on two photographs was not a “lineup” and therefore was not subject to the EIRA. Next, the court held that even assuming the procedure was impermissibly suggestive, the officers’ in-court identification was admissible because it was based on an independent source, their clear, close and unobstructed view of the suspect at the scene.

The court rejected the defendant’s argument that a photographic lineup was impermissibly suggestive because the defendant’s photo was smaller than others in the array.

The trial court’s admission of photo identification evidence did not violate the defendant’s right to due process. The day after a break-in at her house, one of the victims, a high school student, became upset in school. Her mother was called to school and brought along the student’s sister, who was also present when the crime occurred. After the student told the Principal about the incident, the Principal took the student, her sister and her mother into his office and showed the sisters photographs from the N.C. Sex Offender Registry website to identify the perpetrator. Both youths identified the perpetrator from one of the pictures. The mother then contacted the police and the defendant was eventually arrested. At trial, both youths identified the defendant as the perpetrator in court. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the Principal acted as an agent of the State when he showed the youths the photos, finding that his actions “were more akin to that of a parent, friend, or other concerned citizen offering to help the victim of a crime.” Because the Principal was not a state actor when he presented the photographs, the defendant’s due process rights were not implicated in the identification. Even if the Principal was a state actor and the procedure used was unnecessarily suggestive, the procedure did not give rise to a substantial likelihood of irreparable misidentification given the circumstances of the identification. Finally, because the photo identification evidence was properly admitted, the trial court also properly admitted the in-court identifications of defendant.

(1) The trial court properly denied the defendant’s motion to suppress asserting that an eyewitness’s pretrial identification was unduly suggestive. The eyewitness had the opportunity to view the defendant at close range for an extended period of time and was focused on and paying attention to the defendant for at least fifteen minutes. Additionally, the eyewitness described the defendant by name as someone he knew and had interacted with previously, and immediately identified a photograph of him, indicating high levels of accuracy and confidence in the eyewitness’s description and identification. Although, the eyewitness stated that he recognized but could not name all of the suspects on the night of the attack, he named the defendant and identified a photograph of him the next day. (2) No violation of G.S. 15A-284.52 (eyewitness identification procedures) occurred. The eyewitness told the detective that he had seen one of the perpetrators in a weekly newspaper called the The Slammer, but did not recall his name. The detective allowed the eyewitness to look through pages of photographs in The Slammer, and from this process the eyewitness identified one of the defendants. The detective did not know who the eyewitness was looking for and thus could not have pressured him to select one of the defendants, nor does any evidence suggest that this occurred.

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