Thursday, February 3, 2005

Eyewitness identification case in 9th Cir.

United States v. Beck, 393 F.3d 1088 (9th Cir. Jan. 5, 2005) addresses the admissibility of eyewitness testimony.

(1) Was a photo spread improperly suggestive?

Three witnesses had described the bank robber: (a) a white male, about six feet tall, thin, in his mid-thirties, clean-shaven, with framed prescription glasses and black, curly, shoulder-length hair. (b) male, white or Native American, twenty-five to thirty years old, approximately six feet tall, with full, neatly cut, black hair. (c) male, possibly Hispanic or Filipino, in his mid-twenties, about five feet, ten inches tall, with black, wavy, collar-length hair. The photospread showed six white men with dark hair and glasses, all but one clean-shaven. The court held that it was not improperly suggestive.

(2) Should the court have excluded testimony by the defendant's probation officer?

The officer identified the man in the bank's surveillance photo as the defendant. The trial court allowed him to testify, but without indicating that he was the defendant's probation officer (which would of course had let the jury know that the defendant had a criminal record). Instead the officer said that he had "a professional relationship" with the defendant. Held: no abuse of discretion for district court to admit this as lay opinion testimony under FRE 701.

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