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Law School Case Brief

State v. Lehr - 201 Ariz. 509, 38 P.3d 1172 (2002)


An appellate court reviews the fairness and reliability of a challenged identification for clear abuse of discretion. The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires the court to ensure that any pretrial identification procedures are conducted in a manner that is fundamentally fair and secures the suspect's right to a fair trial. It is the likelihood of misidentification which violates a defendant's right to due process. The mere fact that a pretrial identification procedure is overly suggestive, however, does not bar the admission of an identification. Instead, the question is whether the identification is reliable in spite of any suggestiveness. Reliability is the linchpin in determining the admissibility of identification testimony. Thus, there is a two-part test for determining admissibility: (1) whether the method or procedure used was unduly suggestive; and (2) even if unduly suggestive, whether it led to a substantial likelihood of misidentification, i.e., whether it was reliable. If the lineup procedure was unduly suggestive, and the lineup identification was not reliable enough to avoid a substantial likelihood of misidentification, then the testimony must be excluded.


Over the course of approximately one year, defendant Scot Alan Lehr allegedly attacked and raped 10 women, three of whom he  allegedly killed. At trial, the surviving victims positively identified the defendant as their assailant. Furthermore, the Department of Public Safety (DPS) found either a four or five-probe match between the defendant’s DNA and samples taken from the respective victims' vagina.  Defendant was convicted of three counts of first degree murder, three counts of attempted first degree murder, two counts of aggravated assault, seven counts of kidnapping, 13 counts of sexual assault, one count of attempted sexual assault, four counts of sexual conduct with a minor, and four counts of sexual assault with a child under the age of 14 years. Defendant appealed from his convictions, asserting that the limits placed upon cross-examination at trial violated his fundamental right to confront adverse witnesses under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.


By limiting the criminal defendant’s right to confront adverse witnesses, were his rights under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution violated?




The Arizona Supreme Court held that defendant's right to confront adverse witnesses had been violated. Because the appellate court could not say beyond a reasonable doubt that the error had no effect on seven of the 37 verdicts, including two of the first-degree murder convictions, it had to reverse them. The court also agreed that defendant's Sixth Amendment rights were violated because of a ruling that precluded him from presenting expert testimony regarding the protocol, validation studies, and match window of the DNA analysis. The trial judge's application of Ariz. R. Evid. 403 was based on the erroneous assumption that evidence from the Frye hearing would play no significant role in the jury's consideration. Thus, the trial court abused its discretion when it found that the probative value of that evidence was outweighed by the risk of juror confusion. However, for all but three of the victims, there was credible eye-witness identification, physical evidence apart from DNA, or other corroborating facts that clearly implicated the defendant, and the error was harmless as to them. The counts relating to the attacks upon three of the other victims were another matter.

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