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Simmons v. United States


Two unmasked men robbed a bank. Five bank employees witnessed the robbery, and on that same day gave the FBI written statements. The next morning FBI agents obtained and showed separately to each of the witnesses some snapshots consisting mostly of group pictures of the defendants, and others. Each witness identified the defendant as one of the robbers from the pictures.


Whether the use of photographs to identify the defendant as the culprit was a deprivation of his due process rights?


No. The use of photographs is an effective way to identify perpetrators of crime if done so in a fair manner.


The Court came to this determination in light of the “totality of the circumstances.” Each case involving pretrial identification by photographs has to be considered on its own facts. The court will set aside convictions based on eyewitness identification at trial on the grounds of prejudice only if the pretrial identification procedure was so impermissibly suggestive as to give rise to a very substantial likelihood of irreparable misidentification. In this case, the use of photographic identification by the FBI was necessary: a serious felony had been committed; the perpetrators were at large; the inconclusive clues led to the defendant; and the agents had to determine swiftly if they were on the right track.


390 U.S. 377, 88 S. Ct. 967 (1968)

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