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Stovall v. Denno


A doctor was stabbed to death in his home. His wife was also stabbed by the attacker, but survived. She underwent major surgery to save her life but it was unclear whether she would survive. The officers found evidence at the crime scene that led them to the defendant, who was arrested the day after the assault. The next day, the officers arranged to have the defendant brought to the injured woman’s hospital room to determine if she could identify the defendant as the murderer. During this identification process, the defendant was handcuffed to one of the five officers accompanying him, and was the only African-American in the room. The defendant was also required to say some words for the purpose of voice identification. The victim identified the defendant as the murderer.


Whether the identification procedures utilized by the officers was so unnecessarily suggestive so as to violate the defendant’s due process rights?


No. Judged by the “totality of the circumstances,” the identification procedures were necessary to secure significant information.


“The practice of showing suspects singly to persons for the purpose of identification, and not as part of a lineup, has been widely condemned.” Nonetheless, whether identification procedures constitute a due process violation requires the Court to look to the “totality of the circumstances” surrounding the identification. In this case, it was evident that the procedures utilized by the police were necessary. The victim was the only person who could either identify the defendant or exonerate him for the crime. “Her words, and only her words, could have resulted in freedom for the defendant. The hospital was not far from the courthouse and jail. No one knew how long the victim might live. Faced with the responsibility of identifying the attacker, with the need for immediate action and with the knowledge that the victim could not visit the jail, the officers followed the only feasible procedure and took the defendant to the hospital room.”


388 U.S. 293, 87 S. Ct. 1967 (1967)

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