Manson v. Brathwaite, 432 U.S. 98 (1977)

2012-07-29 10:52:36

Because eyewitness identification is rife with risk of error (United States v. Wade, 388 U.S. 218, 1967), the U.S. Supreme Court monitors identification procedures to reduce the risk of mistaken identification testimony yielding an unjust conviction. In Manson v. Brathwaite, the Court set forth a due-process test for the admission of eyewitness identification testimony. Police investigators presented an undercover police officer witness with a single photo of their suspect, rather than presenting several photos of varying individuals to him in a photo array.

Though the single photo identification practice was unnecessarily suggestive, the Court majority refused to exclude the undercover officer’s testimony about his out-of-court photographic identification of the defendant, nor his in-court identification. The lower appellate court had interpreted earlier due-process rulings in Stovall v. Denno, 388 U.S. 293 (1967), and Neil v. Biggers, 409 U.S. 188 (1972), to require exclusion of testimony relating to an unnecessarily suggestive outof- court identification procedure, thus encouraging use of a more reliable means of identification when available.

But the Manson majority rejected this per se exclusionary rule as too severe. Instead, testimony regarding the out-of-court and in-court identification would be excluded only when there is a substantial likelihood of misidentification. This likelihood is determined by weighing the corrupting effect of the suggestive identification procedure against the factors relating to reliability (the witness’s opportunity to observe, degree of attention, level of certainty, the accuracy of the prior description, and the time lapse between the crime and the identification procedure). The dissenters urged a greater deterrent of unreliable procedures. This debate continues.


References and Further Reading

  • Gross, Samuel H., Loss of Innocence: Eyewitness Identification and Proof of Guilt, Journal of Legal Studies 16 (1987): 395–453.
  • Koosed, Margery M., The Proposed Innocence Protection Act Won’t—Unless It Also Curbs Mistaken Eyewitness Identifications, Ohio State Law Journal 63 (2002): 263–314.
  • Rattner, Arye, Convicted but Innocent: Wrongful Convictions and the Criminal Justice System, Law and Human Behavior 12 (1988): 283–293.
  • Wells, Gary L., and Donna M. Murray. ‘‘What Can Psychology Say About the Neil v. Biggers Criteria for Judging Eyewitness Accuracy?’’ Journal of Applied Psychology 68 (1983): 34.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Neil v. Biggers, 409 U.S. 188 (1972)
  • Stovall v. Denno, 388 U.S. 293 (1967)
  • United States v. Wade, 388 U.S. 218 (1967)

See also Due Process; Eyewitness Identification; Line-Ups