Identification held not to be unduly suggestive

The Court of Appeals, in Peopdle v. Gilford (Ct. App. 5/3/2011) (7-0), held that evidence in the record supported that an identification of a defendant under police spotlights, exiting a police car wearing handcuffs and subject to visible flanking in front of the witnesses, was not unduly suggestive.

One victim suffered a mortal stab would in his chest at an indoor roller skating rink called “Skate Key” in the Bronx; another suffered a nearly fatal stab wound. Immediately after the stabbing, a female witness who was helping one of the victims, identified the Defendant as the attacker, to a police sergeant assigned to the area outside of Skate Key. The witness and sergeant pursued the fleeing Defendant and were later joined by two uniformed police officers.  The defendant was apprehended.  An officer took the Defendant to the hospital with the hopes of doing a showup with the first victim.  However, the officer was told that the victim was being attended to by physicians and could not do a showup. 

Nevertheless, the officer stopped two individuals who appeared distraught.  They indicated that they were at the hospital because they were friends with the first victim.  The officer asked “if they knew anything about what had happened at Skate Key and they said that they did.” The officer did not know that the female witness had already identified the Defendant to the sergeant as the attacker. The witness and companion identified the attacker under a bright light while the Defendant was in handcuffs. This took place no more than 45 minutes after the crime.

The trial judge denied the defendant’s motion to suppress the identification evidence because exigent circumstances, specifically, Jones’s imminent death, existed; further, the showup was not unduly suggestive, even though the defendant was “spotlighted by takedown” lights, taken from a police car wearing handcuffs and “flanked by police officers in plain view.” Additionally, defense counsel unsuccessfully argued that the showup was impermissibly duplicative because the officers had to have known that a showup was unnecessary to establish probable cause since the defendant was already under arrest. The judge responded that the chain of events was “unbroken,” “related in temporal and geographic proximity” and was necessary in light of the circumstances.

The Appellate Division found no basis for suppression and the Court of Appeals affirmed; the Court explained that the suppression inquiry is whether the showup was reasonable under the circumstances and then if it was unduly suggestive.  As both are mixed questions of law and fact, and the trial court and Appellate Division's findings were supported by evidence in the record, further review by the Court of Appeals was not possible. (RB/LC)

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