People v. Anderson, 2017 IL App (1st) 122640 (January). Episode 293 (Duration 10:22)
Trial court distinguishes Lerma to deny the use of an eyewitness expert in this case.
The victims were shot to death as they sat in a vehicle in the parking lot behind Leader Liquors.
Officers just happen to be going to that area when they heard multiple gunshots and saw a man standing near a car shooting at the occupants. A chase ensues.
The officers have moments to observe the shooters face and make a general description. The call it in as they are chasing. A few moments later another officer sees defendant.
He has thrown some gloves on the ground but is arrested.
The officers who witnessed the shooting are able to identify defendant as the shooter. It also turned out they had arrested defendant one year earlier.
Police retrace the steps of the shooter and find the murder weapon on a roof. The gloves had gunshot residue on them. Turns our the defendant used to be friends with the victims.
Defendant challenged the identification made by the officers and challenged the fact he was denied the use of an eyewitness identification expert witness.
Both officers testified that as defendant was running, his hood fell back, allowing them to see an unobstructed view of his face from a distance of 10 to 12 feet away in a well-lit alley.
They positively identified him only 15 to 20 minutes later.
They testified to a degree of detail that would allow the jury to make a determination as to the appropriate weight to be given their identification testimony. The description of the fleeing offender given over the radio was accurate to the extent that it matched the defendant running through the neighborhood gangways within four minutes of the shooting in close proximity to the scene.
The court also considered the level of certainty the witness demonstrated in identifying defendant as the offender. Both officers identified defendant without hesitation shortly after seeing his face in the alley.
Finally, it considers the amount of time between the commission of the crime and the identification. Here, the officers identified defendant about 15 to 20 minutes after the shooting.
Why The Identification Was Denied
In addressing the admission of expert testimony, the trial judge should balance the probative value of the evidence against its prejudicial effect to determine the reliability of the testimony.
Furthermore, the necessity and relevance of the expert testimony should be carefully considered in light of the facts of the case.
The reviewing court noted that in People v. Lerma, 2016 IL 118496, the court began its analysis by stating that “this is the type of case for which eyewitness testimony is both relevant and appropriate” given that the only evidence of the defendant’s guilt was the eyewitness identifications made by two witnesses.
There was no physical evidence and no confession or other incriminating statements.
Arrested Nearby &
Here, defendant’s conviction does not rest solely on the identification made by the two officers. Not only did the officers see defendant shoot the victims, they chased him through an alley. After they lost sight of him, another officer saw the defendant who was wearing clothes that matched a radio broadcast that described the shooter, running through a gangway and alley near the shooting, and defendant was detained four blocks from the shooting only four minutes after it had occurred.
In addition, defendant was seen throwing down a pair of black gloves that later tested positive for gunshot residue.
The Murder Weapon
Additionally, the murder weapon was found on the route between where they chased defendant and where a third officer later observed him running.
Defendant was then identified separately by both officers who gave chase and saw the shooting.
The trial court weighed the facts and circumstances of this case and correctly concluded that the conclusion to be reached would not “rise or fall on the identification of two police officers alone.”
Unlike Lerma, there was physical and circumstantial evidence outside of the identification testimony that supported defendant’s conviction.
Furthermore, unlike Lerma, there was no report submitted by an expert in this case, nor did the defense submit a detailed motion containing the proposed testimony of the expert or a summary of the relevance of that testimony to the issues in this case.
Instead, the defense submitted a generalized motion indicating that the expert would testify to common misconceptions regarding eyewitness identifications, the accuracy of eyewitness identifications and the effect of suggestivity or bias, how memory affects eyewitness identification, “factors associated with verified cases of misidentification and as observed in this particular case,” and that “the eyewitnesses in the present case are not reliable based on the factors in this case.”
The trial court conducted a meaningful inquiry of the expert witness and the content to which he would testify at a hearing on defendant’s motion and, in its discretion, denied the motion.
There was no abuse of discretion.
The record shows that the trial court balanced the probative value against the possible prejudice that may arise from allowing this expert to testify. In addition, the jury was given an instruction on how to weigh eyewitness identification testimony. Even if this was the type of case for which expert eyewitness testimony was relevant and appropriate, which it is not, the trial court’s denial of defendant’s request is a harmless error.
Episode 132 – People v. Lerma, 2016 IL 118496 (January)(Eyewitness Expert Testimony Validated by Illinois Supreme Court)
See also Podcast 027 summarizing the lower court on this eyewitness expert testimony issue.