Perry v. New Hampshire

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Evidence
  • Date Filed: January 11, 2012
  • Case #: 10-8974
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: New Hampshire Supreme Court
  • Full Text Opinion

The Due Process Clause does not require a preliminary judicial assessment of the reliability of eyewitness identification unless the identification was procured under unnecessarily suggestive circumstances arranged by law enforcement.

Police were dispatched to an apartment complex parking lot where it was reported that an African-American man was breaking into cars. When an officer responding to the call asked an eyewitness to describe the man, the witness pointed through her apartment window to a man standing in the parking lot beside a police officer and identified the man as the one breaking into cars. Petitioner was then arrested following this identification.

Petitioner moved to suppress the identification before trial, but the motion was denied and subsequent appeals after conviction affirmed the denial. The Court held that due process compels suppression of eyewitness identification only when police use an identification procedure that is both suggestive and unnecessary, and where the indicators of a witness’ ability to make an accurate identification are outweighed by the corrupting effect of law enforcement suggestion. In this case there was no evidence of police misconduct in the identification procedures, therefore suppressing the evidence would not serve the deterrence rationale behind the rule of law. In addition, the Court explained that in the absence of improper police conduct the traditional role of the jury in determining the reliability of evidence, and the safeguards created by the adversary system are sufficient to counter undue weight being placed on eyewitness testimony of questionable reliability.

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