Motions to Suppress Identification in New York Criminal Cases

As this blog has discussed on several occasions, New York law provides that evidence which is obtained in violation of a person’s constitutional or statutory rights cannot be admitted in a criminal trial against that person. Most often, a motion to suppress evidence refers to physical evidence such as a gun or drugs or confessions or statements made by the person arrested. However, in many cases involving charges of burglary, robbery, or other offenses in which identification may be an issue, there may be a valid motion to suppress the identification of the defendant.

Identification can be an issue in any New York criminal trial. However, identification issues are most common in New York theft crimes. After a crime is committed, police will conduct an investigation. This includes visiting the scene of the alleged crime and interviewing witnesses. While questioning a witness, a police officer may obtain information that leads them to another witness, who the officer will then interview, and so on. This may eventually lead to an arrest, at which point there may be a formal or informal identification conducted.

There are various types of identification procedures. Which procedure a police officer or detective uses depends largely on the type of crime, the nature of the information leading up to the identification, and the time that has elapsed between the alleged crime and the identification. A few examples of identification procedures include:

  • photo line-ups including several “fillers” in addition to the suspect;
  • single-photo identifications;
  • live line-ups; and
  • a show-up, or an on-scene identification, usually made shortly after the alleged crime.

The first two identification procedures may be conducted before a suspect is placed under arrest. However, the second two procedures are typically held after the suspect has been apprehended.

The question in a motion to suppress identification is often “was the identification procedure unduly suggestive?” For example, assume police arrest a robbery suspect based on a description given by an anonymous third-party witness who does not want to get involved but gave police a very vague description of the robber. Police then arrest the defendant, who they believe matches the vague description.

At this point, the defendant has not been identified, so the police decide to conduct a show-up identification by bringing the robbery victim to the defendant. If the police show the robbery victim the defendant, while telling him “we’ve got the guy that robbed you, all we need is for you to identify him,” police have improperly suggested to the victim that the person they arrested was the person who committed the crime. Thus, even if the victim positively identifies the defendant as the person that robbed him, a court may rule that the identification is inadmissible because the identification procedure was unduly suggestive.

Even if the identification procedure was found to be unduly suggestive the prosecutor may have a second opportunity to have the identification evidence admitted at trial by holding something called an “independent source” hearing.

Another issue in any motion to suppress identification evidence is whether the police had the legal right to detain a person and put him in a line-up or show-up.  If not, that may be a separate or different ground to suppress the identification evidence.

Have You Been Arrested for a New York Crime?

If you have recently been arrested and charged for a New York theft crime, the case against you may be based on an illegal identification. At the New York criminal law firm of Tilem & Associates, we are well versed in all aspects of both substantive and procedural criminal law, and know how to defend our clients at every stage of the proceeding. To learn more about what we can do to help you defend against the charges you are facing, call 877-377-8666 to schedule a free consultation today.

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