State v. Mitchell, ___ N.C. App. ___, 822 S.E.2d 51 (Nov. 6, 2018)

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.