People v. Thompson, 2016 IL 118667 (January 2016). Episode 135 (Duration 6:10)
Layperson opinion testimony identifying defendant as the person depicted in video evidence is proper.
The case involved burglaries of precursor products for meth.
Surveillance video showed a white male who had short, dark hair, with a balding or thinning spot on the back of his head, a large forehead and receding hairline, and who was wearing a gray cut-off T-shirt and black baggy pants.
Two officers and and a civilian identified the defendant from still images captured from the video.
Illinois Rule of Evidence 701 may be applied to identification testimony when it is helpful to a determination of whether the individual depicted in a surveillance recording is the defendant where “there is some basis for concluding that the witness is more likely to correctly identify the defendant from the photograph than is the jury.”
A lay witness need only have sufficient contact with the defendant, which the jury would not possess, to achieve a level of familiarity that renders the lay opinion helpful.
The Illinois Supreme Court adopted these factors to be considered in considering this question:
- the witness’s general familiarity with the defendant
- the witnesses’ familiarity with the defendant at the time the recording was made or where the witness observed the defendant dressed in a manner similar to the individual depicted in the recording
- whether the defendant was disguised in the recording or changed his/her appearance between the time of the recording and trial
- and the clarity of the recording and extent to which the individual is depicted
The absence of any particular factor does not render the testimony inadmissible.
Police Can Give Their Opinion
The court rejected the idea that a witness must have familiarity with the defendant before or at the time of the recording to testify.
Also, there is no per se rule against admission of a law enforcement officer’s identification testimony.
However, when the State seeks to introduce lay opinion identification testimony from a law enforcement officer, the circuit court should afford the defendant an opportunity to examine the officer outside the presence of the jury.
This will provide the defendant with an opportunity to explore…
- the level of the witness’s familiarity as well as any
- bias or
Moreover, it will allow the circuit court to render a more informed decision as to whether the probative value of the testimony outweighs any potential prejudice.