Law School Case Brief
Manson v. Brathwaite - 432 U.S. 98, 97 S. Ct. 2243 (1977)
Reliability is the linchpin in determining the admissibility of identification testimony for both pre- and post-Stovall confrontations. The factors to be considered include the opportunity of the witness to view the criminal at the time of the crime, the witness' degree of attention, the accuracy of his prior description of the criminal, the level of certainty demonstrated at the confrontation, and the time between the crime and the confrontation. Against these factors is to be weighed the corrupting effect of the suggestive identification itself.
Following the purchase of narcotics by an undercover police officer, the officer who was directly observing the narcotics vendor at close range during the sale, gave a description of the vendor to another police officer, who, in turn, obtained a photograph of defendant Brathwaite and left it at the undercover officer's office. The undercover officer identified the person in the photograph as being the narcotics vendor. Brathwaite was later convicted of possession and sale of heroin in a Connecticut state court trial at which the photograph was admitted into evidence. Also at trial the undercover officer identified Brathwaite as being the person in the picture and made an in-court identification of Brathwaite. After Brathwaite's conviction had been affirmed by the Supreme Court of Connecticut, Brathwaite filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in federal district alleging that the admission of the identification testimony deprived him of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court dismissed the petition. On appeal, the appellate court reversed on the ground that the evidence was unreliable. Furthermore, evidence as to the photograph should have been excluded because the examination of the single photograph was unnecessary and suggestive. Petitioner Manson, the Commissioner of Connecticut's Department of Correction, was granted a writ of certiorari.
Was Brathwaite entitled to habeas corpus relief?
The Supreme Court of the United States held that due process did not compel the exclusion of pretrial identification evidence obtained by a suggestive and unnecessary police identification procedure so long as, under the totality of the circumstances, the identification was reliable. Under the circumstances of Brathwaite's case, the undercover officer's identification was sufficiently reliable to permit its admission into evidence. The Court concluded that the criteria applicable in determining the admissibility of evidence offered by the prosecution concerning an identification were satisfactorily met and complied with in Brathwaite's case. The Court reasoned that the factors that had to be considered included the opportunity of the witness to view respondent at the time of the crime, the witness' degree of attention, the accuracy of his prior description of the criminal, the level of certainty demonstrated at the confrontation, and the time between the crime and the confrontation. Against these factors was weighed the corrupting effect of the suggestive identification itself. The Court determined that it could not say that, under all the circumstances of the case, there was very substantial likelihood of irreparable misidentification.
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