Lexis Nexis - Case Brief

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Law School Case Brief

Neil v. Biggers - 409 U.S. 188, 93 S. Ct. 375 (1972)

Rule:

The factors to be considered in evaluating the likelihood of misidentification include the opportunity of the witness to view the criminal at the time of the crime, the witness' degree of attention, the accuracy of the witness' prior description of the criminal, the level of certainty demonstrated by the witness at the confrontation, and the length of time between the crime and the confrontation.

Facts:

Following a jury trial in a Tennessee state court, defendant was convicted of rape. The evidence against him included testimony concerning his identification by the rape victim at a pretrial police station showup. The victim had spent considerable time with her assailant, had given the police a description of him, and testified at the trial that she had "no doubt" about her identification of the accused and that there was something about his face "I don't think I could ever forget." After the conviction was affirmed by the Tennessee Supreme Court, and after the Tennessee Supreme Court's judgment was affirmed by an equally divided United States Supreme Court, defendant instituted habeas corpus proceedings. The State of Tennessee argued that defendant's claims were barred because they had already been adjudicated by the U.S. Supreme Court on certiorari. The District Court, granting a writ of habeas corpus, held that defendant's federal constitutional claims were not barred by the affirmance by an equally divided Supreme Court, and that the showup identification procedure was so suggestive as to violate due process. On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed.

Issue:

Does the federal habeas corpus statute bar claims when a judgment of a state court lacks absence of a majority position in the Court?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

On certiorari, the United States Supreme Court reversed in part and remanded the case. The Court unanimously held that although the federal habeas corpus statute would preclude relitigation of issues "actually adjudicated by the Supreme Court" in a prior criminal proceeding, the Supreme Court's affirmance by an equally divided court did not constitute such an actual adjudication as to fall within the bar; the Court further held that although the station-house showup procedure was unnecessarily suggestive, it was not so suggestive as to violate due process. Rather, given that the victim of the rape spent a considerable period of time with her assailant and that her description to the police was more than ordinarily thorough, there was no substantial likelihood of misidentification such that the evidence of the identification did not have to be excluded. Thus, the District Court's conclusions on the critical facts were unsupported by the record and clearly erroneous.

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