Manson v. Brathwaite

Manson v. Brathwaite Case Brief

United States Supreme Court
432 U.S. 98 (197)

ISSUE: Did police violate D's due process rights when the undercover officer who viewed D in dim light was given a single photo to view and then ID'ed D as the alleged perp based on a vague and general description of D?
  • Glover was working as an undercover narcotics officer and went with Brown, his informant, to an apartment to purchase narcotics
  • It was 7:45pm when Glover got the apartment, but there was still some daylight
  • A black man opened the door, took Glover's money, closed the door, and then returned with 2 baggies of heroin -- 5-7 minutes passed during the encounter
  • Back at the station, Glover described the perp to another officer who later put 1 photo in Glover's office -- Glover saw the photo 2 days later and said it was the perp
  • Almost 3 months later, officers went to the same apartment and arrested a black man who was there
  • D was charged with possession and sale of heroin
  • The photo Glover viewed was admitted at trial, and Glover testified that there was "no doubt whatsoever" in his mind that D was the per
  • D took the stand on his own behalf and testified that on the day of the sale he was at his own apartment elsewhere ill with back pain -- pain confirmed by his doctor
  • D convicted and Sup. Ct. affirmed
  • Dist. Ct. denied writ of habeas on due process grounds
  • Ct. App. reversed holding that the examination of the single photo was unnecessary and suggestive, and the evidence was unreliable anyways
  • 2 due process approaches for IDs:
    1. Per se approach: Focuses on the procedures employed and requires exclusion of the out-of-court ID evidence without regard to reliability whenever it has been obtained through unnecessarily suggestive confrontation procedures
    2. Totality of the circumstances approach: Permits the admission of the confrontation evidence if, despite the suggestive aspect, the out-of-court ID possesses certain features of reliability
  • Adopt totality test: Reliability is the linchpin in determining the admissibility of ID testimony, and the totality of the circumstances approach should be adopted
    • Reliability/problems of eyewitness testimony: Per se rule goes too far in excluding ID testimony since its application automatically and peremptorily, and without consideration of alleviating factors, keeps evidence from the jury that is reliable and relevant
    • Deterrence: Police will guard against unnecessarily suggestive procedures under both rules
    • Effect on admin. of justice: Reversal is a Draconian sanction in cases where the ID is reliable despite an unnecessarily suggestive ID procedure
  • Factors to consider:
    • Opportunity of the witness to view the criminal at the time of the crime
    • Witness's degree of attention
    • Accuracy of his prior description of the criminal
    • Level of certainty demonstrated at the confrontation
    • Time between the crime and the confrontation
  • Reliable ID testimony here: It cannot be said that under all the circumstances of the case there is a very substantial likelihood of irreparable misidentification
    • Opportunity to view: Not even dark or twilight; there was natural light from the hallway and inside the apartment
    • Degree of attention: Glover was a trained police officer on duty, and a black man himself, he was unlikely to perceive only general features of the perp
    • Accuracy of description: Included perp's race, height, build, color and style of hair, and high cheekbones
    • Level of certainty: "There is no question whatsoever"
    • Time: Took place only 2 days after crime
  • No problem w/ only 1 photo: Failure to view a photo array is not one of constitutional dimension to be enforced by a rigorous and unbending exclusionary rule; defect goes to weight, not to substance
DISSENT - Marshall:
  • Court virtually ignores the teaching and experience embodied in Wade-line decisions and blindly upholds the conviction of a D who might well be innocent
  • Wrong evaluation of factors: Court wrongly evaluates 3 factors in considering the approaches and should have chosen the per se approach
    • Deterrence would serve to make it unquestionably clear that police may never use a suggestive procedure when a fairer alternative is available
    • Dangers of mistaken IDs are simply too great to permit unnecessarily suggestive IDs
    • Not "inflexible" because a suggestive procedure can be repeated in a fairer way
  • Reliability factors:
    • Observation was probably only for 5-10 seconds
    • Mere fact that Glover was trained is no guarantee -- should be scrutinized to the same level
    • A witness is not likely to go back on his previous ID while testifying
    • Memory loss occurs within hours after last sight
    • Only general summary of perp's features
    • Single photo unduly suggestive

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