Question: Does a single-photo lineup violate a suspect’s constitutional due process?
Quick answer: No, not if the lineup is used to confirm the identity of an already known suspect.
Facts: On Nov. 4, 2009, victim Troy Moody was walking his dog outside his house when a car pulled up alongside Moody. The driver knew Moody from school, and the two talked for a few minutes before ending their conversation. Before driving away, the backseat passenger in the car, defendant Dontae Henderson, yelled for Moody to come back towards the car. Moody also recognized Henderson from school. Henderson asked Moody if he was homosexual, which Moody denied while calling Henderson a racial slur. Henderson got angry at the slur, got out of the car, and showed Moody a gun in his waistband, threatening to shoot him with it. He then demanded Moody turn over his coat, and when Moody refused, Henderson fired a shot at Moody’s dog, which missed. He then fired a shot that hit Moody in the leg. Henderson quickly got back in the car, and the driver sped away. Moody made it home, and relatives drove him to the hospital while he called the police.
A detective arrived at the emergency room to investigate the crime. Moody described Henderson to the detective as “a young black male, about 6 feet tall.” Moody also explained that he knew the suspect from childhood and a social networking site, calling him “Dontae” or “Little Tae Woods.” Two days later, the detective met with Moody at his home and had him again explain the crime. Moody told the detective that he went to school with Henderson and that he would be able to identify him if he had a picture. The detective had a school picture of Henderson with him, so he showed Moody, telling him that he “may or may not know this suspect.” Moody immediately recognized Henderson’s photo as “Dontae.” Moody signed and dated the back of Henderson’s photo.
Why the case is important: The court held that the police detective’s single-photo identification was not unduly suggestive, and did the court find Moody’s ID unreliable. Although a single photo array does appear suggestive, that alone isn’t conclusive. Other factors must be considered, such as if the victim knew the defendant. The victim’s knowledge of the defendant doesn’t have to be extensive; he would only need to know the defendant’s face and name. In Henderson’s case, though, Moody already knew Henderson before the crime, from childhood, school, and online. His previous knowledge of Henderson before seeing the picture was highly reliable, which shows that the one-photo ID did not affect Moody’s original identification of Henderson even if it was suggestive. Plus, the length of time, time of day, and physical proximity of Moody’s encounter with Henderson all indicate that Moody’s identification of Henderson was reliable.
Keep in mind: Any type of police-led identification will always have some level of suggestiveness to it. To combat that problem, always try to have the victim give as many specific details of the suspect as he can, if able. Those details will help you decide what type of identification procedure would best suit your case in getting a reliable ID. And if the victim at least knows of the suspect, you may be able to use a single-photo identification in your case.
to read the entire opinion.