Identification of defendants in criminal cases - Part I
Whenever a criminal case goes to trial, the prosecutor has two essential elements to prove beyond a reasonable doubt: (1) that a crime was committed and (2) that the defendant committed the crime. I will leave detailing the first element for a future column.
As to the second, what I’m referring to is simply called “identifying the defendant” as the person who did it.
Generally speaking, there are two ways that a defendant can be identified at a trial. These are by eyewitness testimony and scientific evidence testimony by an expert witness.
Eyewitness testimony is from a person who has firsthand knowledge of an event from seeing the defendant allegedly commit a crime.
In most trials, it’s as simple as that, but sometimes things are done before trial to ensure that the right person has been arrested and can be accurately identified in court.
Among these procedures is the “one person show up.” This describes what happens immediately after a crime is committed and the arrest of a suspect at or near the scene. The eyewitness is promptly taken by the police to view the in custody suspect to determine if he or she is the responsible person. If the answer is yes, the witness thereafter testifies at trial as to the identification.
Another method is a “corporeal or body lineup.”
Here the police have the suspect and four or five other individuals stand side by side in front of the witness (who is hidden) to determine if the suspect can be “picked out.”
The other individuals must be of similar age, weight, height and race and the same sex. If they are not and the suspect is identified, the subsequent testimony might be barred as “impermissibly suggestive” lineups are prohibited.
There is also a police lineup procedure called the “six pack photo array.”
This is when the witness is shown the suspect’s picture and those of five other similar looking individuals to see if the suspect can be identified.
Finally, when no one is in custody, a composite drawing can be made by a police artist based upon a witness’s description. This is then distributed to the general public in the hope that someone recognizes a possible suspect.
Next week — scientific evidence.