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Law School Case Brief

Gilbert v. California - 388 U.S. 263, 87 S. Ct. 1951 (1967)


A post-indictment pretrial lineup at which an accused is exhibited to identifying witnesses is a critical stage of the criminal prosecution. Police conduct of such a lineup without notice to and in the absence of his counsel denies the accused his Sixth Amendment right to counsel and calls in question the admissibility at trial of the in-court identifications of the accused by witnesses who attended the lineup.


In investigating certain robberies in which a robber used a handwritten note demanding that money be handed over to him, police took handwriting exemplars from defendant Jesse James Gilbert, seized photographs during a warrantless search of his apartment, and required him to participate in a police lineup conducted without notice to his counsel 16 days after indictment and after appointment of counsel. At his trial in California state court, the court admitted in evidence: (1) the handwriting exemplars; (2) an accomplice's pretrial statement implicating Gilbert; (3) the photographs; (4) in-court identifications of Gilbert by witnesses who had observed him at the lineup, and; (5) testimony by witnesses both at the guilt phase and at the penalty stage of the prosecution that they had identified him at the lineup. He was convicted of armed robbery and murder, and he was sentenced to death. The Supreme Court of California affirmed. Gilbert was granted a writ of certiorari.


Was Gilbert denied his Sixth Amendment right when he was convicted of armed robbery and murder based, in part, upon a lineup and in-court identifications?




The Supreme Court of the United States vacated the state supreme court's judgment and conviction and remanded the matter for further proceedings. The Court ruled, inter alia, Gilbert was denied his constitutional right to counsel at the police lineup, thereby rendering inadmissible the witnesses' testimony that they had identified Gilbert at the lineup. The unconstitutional line-up also rendered inadmissible the in-court identifications by witnesses who observed Gilbert at the lineup, since the testimony was admitted without first determining that the in-court identifications were not tainted by the illegal lineup, but were of independent origin. The Court remanded the matter to provide the State with an opportunity to establish that the in-court identifications had an independent source.

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