- Should the woman's in-court identification be allowed as evidence?
- Why or why not?
A young man robbed a woman in a women's restroom at the Washington National Monument. During the robbery, the woman had a good opportunity to see the young man. The woman immediately reported the robbery and described the young man who robbed her. Three days later, a young man (Crews) was improperly and illegally detained. Photographs were taken of the young man, and a photographic display was shown to the woman. She immediately identified Crews as the man who robbed her at gunpoint. In a lineup, the woman again identified Crews as the robber. At the trial for armed robbery, the woman appeared as a witness and identified the defendant as the robber. Crews was convicted and appealed, arguing that the in-court identification was the fruit of the poisonous tree and should not to be used as evidence.
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The fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine holds that any evidence found as a consequence of improperly obtained evidence should be excluded. There are some exceptions, for example, evidence that was obtained independent of the improper actions, evidence that would have been obtained no matter what, or evidence that can be shown to be so disconnected from the improper action that it doesn't matter.
I find it interesting that Crews' argument was only that the in-court identification should be excluded because the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine seems to go back further in time, to the point at which he was made part of a photo display. This evidence certainly should have been excluded.
However, there is case law which suggests that the in-court identification is an "independent" means of identification, not connected to the photo identification, which was tainted. (I have included a link to that case below.) One problem, of course, is that but for the improper detention of Crews, he might never have been in court in the first place, to be identified as the perpetrator. An additional problem is that but for the improper photo identification, the image of Crews might never have been "fixed" in the victim's mind, so it is difficult to argue that this is an independent identification of the defendant.
In the case provided below, the defendant was identified in court by more than one person and was identified by at least one witness who saw him frequently. This is distinguishable from the scenario provided because there is a sole witness. Furthermore, because of the photo identification, an uncertainty is created. Is she identifying the person she recognizes from the robbery, or is she identifying the person whose photo she has seen?
On appeal, all one has to argue on is the record. There is no opportunity to enter new facts or ask new questions of witnesses. Did the photo identification evidence come in? Was there sufficient foundation to establish the victim's identification as independent of the photo identification? There are many factors that would affect an appellate court's decision, but those are central questions. To the degree that Crews can argue that everything that follows from the initial improper detention is tainted, he can prevail, but to the degree that the state can argue that there is evidence in the record to show a truly independent identification, the state could prevail.
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