Man in police lineup

This is the next post in a series of articles addressing defending against assault and battery charges in Peoria, Illinois. The previous post discussed self-defense, a common issue arising in assault and battery cases. Demonstrating that one was reacting to an initial aggressor with reasonable force to defend oneself would provide an affirmative defense to an assault and battery charge. In this article, I will discuss the possibility of excluding an eyewitness identification when it was obtained by overly suggestive police practices. Both self-defense and the exclusion of eyewitness identifications can involve complicated facts and legal theories. It is essential to engage an experienced defense lawyer to represent your interests. If you have been charged with assault and battery, contact my office today to speak with an attorney.

In assault and battery matters, a prosecutor’s case may be heavily based upon an eyewitness’ identification of the accused. One can imagine, for example, a situation where those involved in an altercation flee the scene and must be identified after the fact. The method by which the police obtain an identification from a witness must not be overly suggestive, or the identification may be excluded as evidence against the accused. If the prosecution’s case is based on the eyewitness identification, then precluding an in-court ID may result in a defendant successfully defending against the charges.

The United States Supreme Court has established a two-part test outlining guidelines by which police behavior and the reliability of witness identifications can be evaluated. First, the court will review whether the police behaved in a suggestive manner to solicit the identification. Behavior such as presenting a line-up in which the suspect overtly stands out from the others or showing the witness a photo of the accused before the line-up could be considered suggestive. If suggestive behavior occurred, then the court will review a series of reliability factors to evaluate the witness’ reliability. These may include the witness’ opportunity to view the accused, the witness’ confidence during the line-up identification, or the accuracy of the description given to the police. Other factors such as the degree of attention of the witness to the event and the length of time between the crime and the identification may also be reviewed. If the court determines that suggestive behavior occurred and the identification was not reliable, then the court may grant the motion to exclude the identification from evidence. Absent other evidence against the defendant, excluding the identification could result in the dismissal of charges completely.

Consider the following example. A neighbor notifies the police that a person down the street, about 100 yards away, is being attacked by a woman with blond hair. The police patrol the area and locate a woman with blond hair walking nearby. They handcuff her and detain her in the patrol car. The police ask the witness if the woman in the squad car is the attacker and she agrees. For obvious reasons, this is suggestive police behavior. In reviewing the reliability of the witness’ identification, the court would note that the witness was 100 yards away with a bad vantage point. The judge would likely also determine that the description given, that the suspect had blond hair, was not specific enough. In this case, a judge may find the witness to be unreliable and prevent her from testifying against the suspect in court. A judge’s ruling in any given case will, of course, depend upon the specific facts surrounding the situation.

Being wrongfully accused of a crime, whether as a result of an eyewitness mistake or identification due to suggestive police activity is an extremely serious matter. Defending oneself against such claims can involve complicated legal theories and will depend upon the facts of each specific case. I cannot overemphasize the importance of retaining an experienced criminal defense attorney to review the facts of your situation and zealously defend your rights. If you have been accused of assault and battery, contact my office today to speak with a lawyer. My office also represents clients in Bloomington, Decatur, Eureka, Galesburg, Morton, Normal, Pekin, Springfield, and Washington. We also serve the counties of Fulton, Knox, LaSalle, Marshall, Mason, McLean, Putnam, Rock Island, Schuyler, Stark, Tazewell, and Woodford.