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6.1: Chapter 38 - Identifications and the Right to Counsel

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    Chapter 38

    Identifications and the Right to Counsel

    In this chapter we begin our three-chapter unit on identification evidence, which generally consists of witness statements about who committed a crime. A victim or other witness can identify a perpetrator in court (saying, in front of the jury, something like, “That’s the one who did it”), and police often ask witnesses to identify suspects out of court. Out-of-court identification procedures include lineups—at which several similar-looking persons are presented to a witness in the hope that the witness will identify the correct person—as well as less elaborate presentations which are essentially lineups with only one suspect, about whom the witness says “yes” or “no.” Further, police can show photos to witnesses, a process much quicker than in-person identification.

    This chapter concerns when a suspect has the right to have counsel present during an identification procedure.

    Supreme Court of the United States

    United States v. Billy Joe Wade

    Decided June 12, 1967 – 388 U.S. 218

    Mr. Justice BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

    The question here is whether courtroom identifications of an accused at trial are to be excluded from evidence because the accused was exhibited to the witnesses before trial at a post-indictment lineup conducted for identification purposes without notice to and in the absence of the accused’s appointed counsel.

    The federally insured bank in Eustace, Texas, was robbed on September 21, 1964. A man with a small strip of tape on each side of his face entered the bank, pointed a pistol at the female cashier and the vice president, the only persons in the bank at the time, and forced them to fill a pillowcase with the bank’s money. The man then drove away with an accomplice who had been waiting in a stolen car outside the bank. On March 23, 1965, an indictment was returned against respondent, Wade, and two others for conspiring to rob the bank, and against Wade and the accomplice for the robbery itself. Wade was arrested on April 2, and counsel was appointed to represent him on April 26. Fifteen days later an FBI agent, without notice to Wade’s lawyer, arranged to have the two bank employees observe a lineup made up of Wade and five or six other prisoners and conducted in a courtroom of the local county courthouse. Each person in the line wore strips of tape such as allegedly worn by the robber and upon direction each said something like ‘put the money in the bag,’ the words allegedly uttered by the robber. Both bank employees identified Wade in the lineup as the bank robber.

    At trial the two employees, when asked on direct examination if the robber was in the courtroom, pointed to Wade. The prior lineup identification was then elicited from both employees on cross-examination. At the close of testimony, Wade’s counsel moved for a judgment of acquittal or, alternatively, to strike the bank officials’ courtroom identifications on the ground that conduct of the lineup, without notice to and in the absence of his appointed counsel, violated his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and his Sixth Amendment right to the assistance of counsel. The motion was denied, and Wade was convicted. The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial at which the in-court identification evidence was to be excluded. We granted certiorari and set the case for oral argument with [other cases] which present similar questions. We reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand to that court with direction to enter a new judgment vacating the conviction and remanding the case to the District Court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


    Neither the lineup itself nor anything shown by this record that Wade was required to do in the lineup violated his privilege against self-incrimination. We have only recently reaffirmed that the privilege “protects an accused only from being compelled to testify against himself, or otherwise provide the State with evidence of a testimonial or communicative nature ….” “[T]he prohibition of compelling a man in a criminal court to be witness against himself is a prohibition of the use of physical or moral compulsion to extort communications from him, not an exclusion of his body as evidence when it may be material.”

    We have no doubt that compelling the accused merely to exhibit his person for observation by a prosecution witness prior to trial involves no compulsion of the accused to give evidence having testimonial significance. It is compulsion of the accused to exhibit his physical characteristics, not compulsion to disclose any knowledge he might have. [C]ompelling Wade to speak within hearing distance of the witnesses, even to utter words purportedly uttered by the robber, was not compulsion to utter statements of a “testimonial” nature; he was required to use his voice as an identifying physical characteristic, not to speak his guilt. [T]he distinction to be drawn under the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination is one between an accused’s “communications” in whatever form, vocal or physical, and “compulsion which makes a suspect or accused the source of ‘real or physical evidence.’” “[B]oth federal and state courts have usually held that … [the privilege] offers no protection against compulsion to submit to fingerprinting, photography, or measurements, to write or speak for identification, to appear in court, to stand, to assume a stance, to walk, or to make a particular gesture.” None of these activities becomes testimonial within the scope of the privilege because required of the accused in a pretrial lineup.

    Moreover, it deserves emphasis that this case presents no question of the admissibility in evidence of anything Wade said or did at the lineup which implicates his privilege. The Government offered no such evidence as part of its case, and what came out about the lineup proceedings on Wade’s cross-examination of the bank employees involved no violation of Wade’s privilege.


    The fact that the lineup involved no violation of Wade’s privilege against self-incrimination does not, however, dispose of his contention that the courtroom identifications should have been excluded because the lineup was conducted without notice to and in the absence of his counsel. [I]n this case it is urged that the assistance of counsel at the lineup was indispensable to protect Wade’s most basic right as a criminal defendant—his right to a fair trial at which the witnesses against him might be meaningfully cross-examined.

    When the Bill of Rights was adopted, there were no organized police forces as we know them today. The accused confronted the prosecutor and the witnesses against him, and the evidence was marshalled, largely at the trial itself. In contrast, today’s law enforcement machinery involves critical confrontations of the accused by the prosecution at pretrial proceedings where the results might well settle the accused’s fate and reduce the trial itself to a mere formality. In recognition of these realities of modern criminal prosecution, our cases have construed the Sixth Amendment guarantee to apply to “critical” stages of the proceedings. The guarantee reads: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right … to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.” The plain wording of this guarantee thus encompasses counsel’s assistance whenever necessary to assure a meaningful “defence.”

    As early as Powell v. State of Alabama, 287 U.S. 45 (1932), we recognized that the period from arraignment to trial was “perhaps the most critical period of the proceedings …” during which the accused “requires the guiding hand of counsel …” if the guarantee is not to prove an empty right. That principle has since been applied to require the assistance of counsel at the type of arraignment where certain rights might be sacrificed or lost: “What happens there may affect the whole trial. Available defenses may be irretrievably lost, if not then and there asserted ….” The principle was also applied in Massiah v. United States (Chapter 29), where we held that incriminating statements of the defendant should have been excluded from evidence when it appeared that they were overheard by federal agents who, without notice to the defendant’s lawyer, arranged a meeting between the defendant and an accomplice turned informant.

    In Escobedo v. State of Illinois, 378 U.S. 478 (1964), we [held] that the right to counsel was guaranteed at the point where the accused, prior to arraignment, was subjected to secret interrogation despite repeated requests to see his lawyer.1 We again noted the necessity of counsel’s presence if the accused was to have a fair opportunity to present a defense at the trial itself.

    Finally in Miranda v. State of Arizona (Chapter 23), the rules established for custodial interrogation included the right to the presence of counsel. The result was rested on our finding that this and the other rules were necessary to safeguard the privilege against self-incrimination from being jeopardized by such interrogation.

    Of course, nothing decided or said in the opinions in the cited cases links the right to counsel only to protection of Fifth Amendment rights. Rather those decisions “no more than [reflect] a constitutional principle established as long ago as Powell v. Alabama ….” It is central to that principle that in addition to counsel’s presence at trial, the accused is guaranteed that he need not stand alone against the State at any stage of the prosecution, formal or informal, in court or out, where counsel’s absence might derogate from the accused’s right to a fair trial. The security of that right is as much the aim of the right to counsel as it is of the other guarantees of the Sixth Amendment—the right of the accused to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury, his right to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation, and his right to be confronted with the witnesses against him and to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor. The presence of counsel at such critical confrontations, as at the trial itself, operates to assure that the accused’s interests will be protected consistently with our adversary theory of criminal prosecution.

    In sum, the principle of Powell v. Alabama and succeeding cases requires that we scrutinize any pretrial confrontation of the accused to determine whether the presence of his counsel is necessary to preserve the defendant’s basic right to a fair trial as affected by his right meaningfully to cross-examine the witnesses against him and to have effective assistance of counsel at the trial itself. It calls upon us to analyze whether potential substantial prejudice to defendant’s rights inheres in the particular confrontation and the ability of counsel to help avoid that prejudice.


    The Government characterizes the lineup as a mere preparatory step in the gathering of the prosecution’s evidence, not different—for Sixth Amendment purposes—from various other preparatory steps, such as systematized or scientific analyzing of the accused’s fingerprints, blood sample, clothing, hair, and the like. We think there are differences which preclude such stages being characterized as critical stages at which the accused has the right to the presence of his counsel. Knowledge of the techniques of science and technology is sufficiently available, and the variables in techniques few enough, that the accused has the opportunity for a meaningful confrontation of the Government’s case at trial through the ordinary processes of cross-examination of the Government’s expert witnesses and the presentation of the evidence of his own experts. The denial of a right to have his counsel present at such analyses does not therefore violate the Sixth Amendment; they are not critical stages since there is minimal risk that his counsel’s absence at such stages might derogate from his right to a fair trial.


    But the confrontation compelled by the State between the accused and the victim or witnesses to a crime to elicit identification evidence is peculiarly riddled with innumerable dangers and variable factors which might seriously, even crucially, derogate from a fair trial. The vagaries of eyewitness identification are well-known; the annals of criminal law are rife with instances of mistaken identification. Mr. Justice Frankfurter once said: “What is the worth of identification testimony even when uncontradicted? The identification of strangers is proverbially untrustworthy. The hazards of such testimony are established by a formidable number of instances in the records of English and American trials. These instances are recent—not due to the brutalities of ancient criminal procedure.” A major factor contributing to the high incidence of miscarriage of justice from mistaken identification has been the degree of suggestion inherent in the manner in which the prosecution presents the suspect to witnesses for pretrial identification. Suggestion can be created intentionally or unintentionally in many subtle ways. And the dangers for the suspect are particularly grave when the witness’ opportunity for observation was insubstantial, and thus his susceptibility to suggestion the greatest.

    Moreover, “[i]t is a matter of common experience that, once a witness has picked out the accused at the line-up, he is not likely to go back on his word later on, so that in practice the issue of identity may [in the absence of other relevant evidence] for all practical purposes be determined there and then, before the trial.”

    The pretrial confrontation for purpose of identification may take the form of a lineup, also known as an “identification parade” or “showup,” as in the present case, or presentation of the suspect alone to the witness. It is obvious that risks of suggestion attend either form of confrontation and increase the dangers inhering in eyewitness identification. But as is the case with secret interrogations, there is serious difficulty in depicting what transpires at lineups and other forms of identification confrontations. “Privacy results in secrecy and this in turn results in a gap in our knowledge as to what in fact goes on ….” For the same reasons, the defense can seldom reconstruct the manner and mode of lineup identification for judge or jury at trial. Those participating in a lineup with the accused may often be police officers; in any event, the participants’ names are rarely recorded or divulged at trial. The impediments to an objective observation are increased when the victim is the witness. Lineups are prevalent in rape and robbery prosecutions and present a particular hazard that a victim’s understandable outrage may excite vengeful or spiteful motives. In any event, neither witnesses nor lineup participants are apt to be alert for conditions prejudicial to the suspect. And if they were, it would likely be of scant benefit to the suspect since neither witnesses nor lineup participants are likely to be schooled in the detection of suggestive influences. Improper influences may go undetected by a suspect, guilty or not, who experiences the emotional tension which we might expect in one being confronted with potential accusers. Even when he does observe abuse, if he has a criminal record he may be reluctant to take the stand and open up the admission of prior convictions. Moreover any protestations by the suspect of the fairness of the lineup made at trial are likely to be in vain; the jury’s choice is between the accused’s unsupported version and that of the police officers present. In short, the accused’s inability effectively to reconstruct at trial any unfairness that occurred at the lineup may deprive him of his only opportunity meaningfully to attack the credibility of the witness’ courtroom identification.

    The potential for improper influence is illustrated by the circumstances, insofar as they appear, surrounding the prior identifications in the three cases we decide today. In the present case, the testimony of the identifying witnesses elicited on cross-examination revealed that those witnesses were taken to the courthouse and seated in the courtroom to await assembly of the lineup. The courtroom faced on a hallway observable to the witnesses through an open door. The cashier testified that she saw Wade “standing in the hall” within sight of an FBI agent. Five or six other prisoners later appeared in the hall. The vice president testified that he saw a person in the hall in the custody of the agent who “resembled the person that we identified as the one that had entered the bank.”

    Insofar as the accused’s conviction may rest on a courtroom identification in fact the fruit of a suspect pretrial identification which the accused is helpless to subject to effective scrutiny at trial, the accused is deprived of that right of cross-examination which is an essential safeguard to his right to confront the witnesses against him. And even though cross-examination is a precious safeguard to a fair trial, it cannot be viewed as an absolute assurance of accuracy and reliability. Thus in the present context, where so many variables and pitfalls exist, the first line of defense must be the prevention of unfairness and the lessening of the hazards of eyewitness identification at the lineup itself. The trial which might determine the accused’s fate may well not be that in the courtroom but that at the pretrial confrontation, with the State aligned against the accused, the witness the sole jury, and the accused unprotected against the overreaching, intentional or unintentional, and with little or no effective appeal from the judgment there rendered by the witness—“that’s the man.”

    Since it appears that there is grave potential for prejudice, intentional or not, in the pretrial lineup, which may not be capable of reconstruction at trial, and since presence of counsel itself can often avert prejudice and assure a meaningful confrontation at trial, there can be little doubt that for Wade the postindictment lineup was a critical stage of the prosecution at which he was “as much entitled to such aid [of counsel]… as at the trial itself.” Thus both Wade and his counsel should have been notified of the impending lineup, and counsel’s presence should have been a requisite to conduct of the lineup, absent an “intelligent waiver.” [W]e leave open the question whether the presence of substitute counsel might not suffice where notification and presence of the suspect’s own counsel would result in prejudicial delay.

    “[A]n attorney is merely exercising the good professional judgment he has been taught. This is not cause for considering the attorney a menace to law enforcement. He is merely carrying out what he is sworn to do under his oath—to protect to the extent of his ability the rights of his client. In fulfilling this responsibility the attorney plays a vital role in the administration of criminal justice under our Constitution.”

    In our view counsel can hardly impede legitimate law enforcement; on the contrary, for the reasons expressed, law enforcement may be assisted by preventing the infiltration of taint in the prosecution’s identification evidence. That result cannot help the guilty avoid conviction but can only help assure that the right man has been brought to justice.

    Legislative or other regulations, such as those of local police departments, which eliminate the risks of abuse and unintentional suggestion at lineup proceedings and the impediments to meaningful confrontation at trial may also remove the basis for regarding the stage as “critical.” But neither Congress nor the federal authorities have seen fit to provide a solution. What we hold today “in no way creates a constitutional straitjacket which will handicap sound efforts at reform, nor is it intended to have this effect.”


    We come now to the question whether the denial of Wade’s motion to strike the courtroom identification by the bank witnesses at trial because of the absence of his counsel at the lineup required, as the Court of Appeals held, the grant of a new trial at which such evidence is to be excluded. We do not think this disposition can be justified without first giving the Government the opportunity to establish by clear and convincing evidence that the in-court identifications were based upon observations of the suspect other than the lineup identification. Where, as here, the admissibility of evidence of the lineup identification itself is not involved, a per se rule of exclusion of courtroom identification would be unjustified. A rule limited solely to the exclusion of testimony concerning identification at the lineup itself, without regard to admissibility of the courtroom identification, would render the right to counsel an empty one. The lineup is most often used, as in the present case, to crystallize the witnesses’ identification of the defendant for future reference. We have already noted that the lineup identification will have that effect. The State may then rest upon the witnesses’ unequivocal courtroom identifications, and not mention the pretrial identification as part of the State’s case at trial. Counsel is then in the predicament in which Wade’s counsel found himself—realizing that possible unfairness at the lineup may be the sole means of attack upon the unequivocal courtroom identification, and having to probe in the dark in an attempt to discover and reveal unfairness, while bolstering the government witness’ courtroom identification by bringing out and dwelling upon his prior identification. Since counsel’s presence at the lineup would equip him to attack not only the lineup identification but the courtroom identification as well, limiting the impact of violation of the right to counsel to exclusion of evidence only of identification at the lineup itself disregards a critical element of that right.

    We think it follows that the proper test to be applied in these situations is “[W]hether, granting establishment of the primary illegality, the evidence to which instant objection is made has been come at by exploitation of that illegality or instead by means sufficiently distinguishable to be purged of the primary taint.” Application of this test in the present context requires consideration of various factors; for example, the prior opportunity to observe the alleged criminal act, the existence of any discrepancy between any pre-lineup description and the defendant’s actual description, any identification prior to lineup of another person, the identification by picture of the defendant prior to the lineup, failure to identify the defendant on a prior occasion, and the lapse of time between the alleged act and the lineup identification. It is also relevant to consider those facts which, despite the absence of counsel, are disclosed concerning the conduct of the lineup.

    We doubt that the Court of Appeals applied the proper test for exclusion of the in-court identification of the two witnesses. On the record now before us we cannot make the determination whether the in-court identifications had an independent origin. This was not an issue at trial, although there is some evidence relevant to a determination. That inquiry is most properly made in the District Court. We therefore think the appropriate procedure to be followed is to vacate the conviction pending a hearing to determine whether the in-court identifications had an independent source, or whether, in any event, the introduction of the evidence was harmless error and for the District Court to reinstate the conviction or order a new trial, as may be proper.

    The judgment of the Court of Appeals is vacated and the case is remanded to that court with direction to enter a new judgment vacating the conviction and remanding the case to the District Court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

    Notes, Comments, and Questions

    In Wade, the FBI held a lineup, and the defendant’s counsel was not notified or present. The Court did not find a Fifth Amendment violation. Why not? Were you persuaded by the potential damages as identified by the majority in Wade? Why or why not?

    Our next case, Gilbert v. California, was decided on the same day as Wade and presents similar issues. It also allowed the Court to apply the rule of Wade to handwriting evidence.

    After reading Wade and Gilbert, students should note the Court’s two distinct rules governing evidence resulting from a post-indictment lineup conducted without the defendant’s counsel present. One rule concerns in-court identification of a suspect whom a witness previously encountered at a defective lineup (testimony that need not mention the prior lineup), and the other involves in-court testimony about the defective lineup itself.

    Supreme Court of the United States

    Jesse James Gilbert v. California

    Decided June 12, 1967 – 388 U.S. 263

    Mr. Justice BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

    This case was argued with United States v. Wade and presents the same alleged constitutional error in the admission in evidence of in-court identifications there considered. In addition, petitioner alleges constitutional errors in the admission in evidence of testimony of some of the witnesses that they also identified him at the lineup [and] in the admission of handwriting exemplars taken from him after his arrest.

    Petitioner was convicted in the Superior Court of California of the armed robbery of the Mutual Savings and Loan Association of Alhambra and the murder of a police officer who entered during the course of the robbery. There were separate guilt and penalty stages of the trial before the same jury, which rendered a guilty verdict and imposed the death penalty. The California Supreme Court affirmed. We granted certiorari. If our holding today in Wade is applied to this case, the issue whether admission of the in-court and lineup identifications is constitutional error which requires a new trial could be resolved on this record only after further proceedings in the California courts. We must therefore first determine whether petitioner’s other contentions warrant any greater relief.


    Petitioner was arrested in Philadelphia by an FBI agent and refused to answer questions about the Alhambra robbery without the advice of counsel. He later did answer questions of another agent about some Philadelphia robberies in which the robber used a handwritten note demanding that money be handed over to him, and during that interrogation gave the agent the handwriting exemplars. They were admitted in evidence at trial over objection that they were obtained in violation of petitioner’s Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights. The California Supreme Court upheld admission of the exemplars on the sole ground that petitioner had waived any rights that he might have had not to furnish them. [W]e conclude that the taking of the exemplars violated none of petitioner’s constitutional rights.

    First. The taking of the exemplars did not violate petitioner’s Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.

    Second. The taking of the exemplars was not a “critical” stage of the criminal proceedings entitling petitioner to the assistance of counsel. Putting aside the fact that the exemplars were taken before the indictment and appointment of counsel, there is minimal risk that the absence of counsel might derogate from his right to a fair trial. If, for some reason, an unrepresentative exemplar is taken, this can be brought out and corrected through the adversary process at trial since the accused can make an unlimited number of additional exemplars for analysis and comparison by government and defense handwriting experts. Thus, “the accused has the opportunity for a meaningful confrontation of the [State’s] case at trial through the ordinary processes of cross-examination of the [State’s] expert [handwriting] witnesses and the presentation of the evidence of his own [handwriting] experts.”

    [In Parts II and III, the Court briefly discussed issues related to hearsay evidence and Fourth Amendment search and seizure claims.]


    Since none of the petitioner’s other contentions warrants relief, the issue becomes what relief is required by application to this case of the principles today announced in United States v. Wade.

    Three eyewitnesses to the Alhambra crimes who identified Gilbert at the guilt stage of the trial had observed him at a lineup conducted without notice to his counsel in a Los Angeles auditorium 16 days after his indictment and after appointment of counsel. The manager of the apartment house in which incriminating evidence was found, and in which Gilbert allegedly resided, identified Gilbert in the courtroom and also testified, in substance, to her prior lineup identification on examination by the State. Eight witnesses who identified him in the courtroom at the penalty stage were not eyewitnesses to the Alhambra crimes but to other robberies allegedly committed by him. In addition to their in-court identifications, these witnesses also testified that they identified Gilbert at the same lineup.

    The line-up was on a stage behind-bright lights which prevented those in the line from seeing the audience. Upwards of 100 persons were in the audience, each an eyewitness to one of the several robberies charged to Gilbert. The record is otherwise virtually silent as to what occurred at the lineup.

    At the guilt stage, after the first witness, a cashier of the savings and loan association, identified Gilbert in the courtroom, defense counsel moved, out of the presence of the jury, to strike her testimony on the ground that she identified Gilbert at the pretrial lineup conducted in the absence of counsel in violation of the Sixth Amendment. He requested a hearing outside the presence of the jury to present evidence supporting his claim that her in-court identification was, and others to be elicited by the State from other eyewitnesses would be, “predicated at least in large part upon their identification or purported identification of Mr. Gilbert at the showup.” The trial judge denied the motion as premature. Defense counsel then elicited the fact of the cashier’s lineup identification on cross-examination and again moved to strike her identification testimony. Without passing on the merits of the Sixth Amendment claim, the trial judge denied the motion on the ground that, assuming a violation, it would not in any event entitle Gilbert to suppression of the in-court identification. Defense counsel thereafter elicited the fact of lineup identifications from two other eyewitnesses who on direct examination identified Gilbert in the courtroom. Defense counsel unsuccessfully objected at the penalty stage, to the testimony of the eight witnesses to the other robberies that they identified Gilbert at the lineup.

    The admission of the in-court identifications without first determining that they were not tainted by the illegal lineup but were of independent origin was constitutional error. However, as in Wade, the record does not permit an informed judgment whether the in-court identifications at the two stages of the trial had an independent source. Gilbert is therefore entitled only to a vacation of his conviction pending the holding of such proceedings as the California Supreme Court may deem appropriate to afford the State the opportunity to establish that the in-court identifications had an independent source, or that their introduction in evidence was in any event harmless error.

    Quite different considerations are involved as to the admission of the testimony of the manager of the apartment house at the guilt phase and of the eight witnesses at the penalty stage that they identified Gilbert at the lineup. That testimony is the direct result of the illegal lineup “come at by exploitation of [the primary] illegality.” The State is therefore not entitled to an opportunity to show that that testimony had an independent source. Only a per se exclusionary rule as to such testimony can be an effective sanction to assure that law enforcement authorities will respect the accused’s constitutional right to the presence of his counsel at the critical lineup. In the absence of legislative regulations adequate to avoid the hazards to a fair trial which inhere in lineups as presently conducted, the desirability of deterring the constitutionally objectionable practice must prevail over the undesirability of excluding relevant evidence. That conclusion is buttressed by the consideration that the witness’ testimony of his lineup identification will enhance the impact of his in-court identification on the jury and seriously aggravate whatever derogation exists of the accused’s right to a fair trial. Therefore, unless the California Supreme Court is “able to declare a belief that it was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt,” Gilbert will be entitled on remand to a new trial or, if no prejudicial error is found on the guilt stage but only in the penalty stage, to whatever relief California law affords where the penalty stage must be set aside.

    * * *

    In the next case, the Court considered whether to apply the holdings of Wade and Gilbert to identification procedures conducted before formal proceedings had begun—that is, before the Sixth Amendment right to counsel had attached.

    Supreme Court of the United States

    Thomas Kirby v. Illinois

    Decided June 7, 1972 – 406 U.S. 682

    Mr. Justice STEWART announced the judgment of the Court and an opinion in which THE CHIEF JUSTICE, Mr. Justice BLACKMUN, and Mr. Justice REHNQUIST join.

    In United States v. Wade and Gilbert v. California this Court held “that a post-indictment pretrial lineup at which the accused is exhibited to identifying witnesses is a critical stage of the criminal prosecution; that police conduct of such a lineup without notice to and in the absence of his counsel denies the accused his Sixth (and Fourteenth) Amendment right to counsel and calls in question the admissibility at trial of the in-court identifications of the accused by witnesses who attended the lineup.” Those cases further held that no “in-court identifications” are admissible in evidence if their “source” is a lineup conducted in violation of this constitutional standard. “Only a per se exclusionary rule as to such testimony can be an effective sanction,” the Court said, “to assure that law enforcement authorities will respect the accused’s constitutional right to the presence of his counsel at the critical lineup.” In the present case we are asked to extend the Wade-Gilbert per se exclusionary rule to identification testimony based upon a police station showup that took place before the defendant had been indicted or otherwise formally charged with any criminal offense.

    On February 21, 1968, a man named Willie Shard reported to the Chicago police that the previous day two men had robbed him on a Chicago street of a wallet containing, among other things, traveler’s checks and a Social Security card. On February 22, two police officers stopped the petitioner and a companion, Ralph Bean, on West Madison Street in Chicago. When asked for identification, the petitioner produced a wallet that contained three traveler’s checks and a Social Security card, all bearing the name of Willie Shard. Papers with Shard’s name on them were also found in Bean’s possession. When asked to explain his possession of Shard’s property, the petitioner first said that the traveler’s checks were “play money,” and then told the officers that he had won them in a crap game. The officers then arrested the petitioner and Bean and took them to a police station.

    Only after arriving at the police station, and checking the records there, did the arresting officers learn of the Shard robbery. A police car was then dispatched to Shard’s place of employment, where it picked up Shard and brought him to the police station. Immediately upon entering the room in the police station where the petitioner and Bean were seated at a table, Shard positively identified them as the men who had robbed him two days earlier. No lawyer was present in the room, and neither the petitioner nor Bean had asked for legal assistance, or been advised of any right to the presence of counsel.

    More than six weeks later, the petitioner and Bean were indicted for the robbery of Willie Shard. Upon arraignment, counsel was appointed to represent them, and they pleaded not guilty. A pretrial motion to suppress Shard’s identification testimony was denied, and at the trial Shard testified as a witness for the prosecution. In his testimony he described his identification of the two men at the police station on February 22, and identified them again in the courtroom as the men who had robbed him on February 20. He was cross-examined at length regarding the circumstances of his identification of the two defendants. The jury found both defendants guilty, and the petitioner’s conviction was affirmed on appeal. The Illinois appellate court held that the admission of Shard’s testimony was not error, relying upon an earlier decision of the Illinois Supreme Court … that [held] the Wade-Gilbert per se exclusionary rule is not applicable to preindictment confrontations. We granted certiorari, limited to this question.


    We note at the outset that the constitutional privilege against compulsory self-incrimination is in no way implicated here. The Court emphatically rejected the claimed applicability of that constitutional guarantee in Wade itself.

    It follows that the doctrine of Miranda v. Arizona has no applicability whatever to the issue before us; for the Miranda decision was based exclusively upon the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment privilege against compulsory self-incrimination, upon the theory that custodial interrogation is inherently coercive.

    The Wade-Gilbert exclusionary rule, by contrast, stems from a quite different constitutional guarantee—the guarantee of the right to counsel contained in the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments. [I]t has been firmly established that a person’s Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment right to counsel attaches only at or after the time that adversary judicial proceedings have been initiated against him.

    This is not to say that a defendant in a criminal case has a constitutional right to counsel only at the trial itself. But the point is that, while members of the Court have differed as to existence of the right to counsel in the contexts of some of the above cases, all of those cases have involved points of time at or after the initiation of adversary judicial criminal proceedings—whether by way of formal charge, preliminary hearing, indictment, information, or arraignment.

    The initiation of judicial criminal proceedings is far from a mere formalism. It is the starting point of our whole system of adversary criminal justice. For it is only then that the government has committed itself to prosecute, and only then that the adverse positions of government and defendant have solidified. It is then that a defendant finds himself faced with the prosecutorial forces of organized society, and immersed in the intricacies of substantive and procedural criminal law. It is this point, therefore, that marks the commencement of the “criminal prosecutions” to which alone the explicit guarantees of the Sixth Amendment are applicable.

    In this case we are asked to import into a routine police investigation an absolute constitutional guarantee historically and rationally applicable only after the onset of formal prosecutorial proceedings. We decline to do so. Less than a year after Wade and Gilbert were decided, the Court explained the rule of those decisions as follows: “The rationale of those cases was that an accused is entitled to counsel at any ‘critical stage of the prosecution,’ and that a post-indictment lineup is such a ‘critical stage.’” We decline to depart from that rationale today by imposing a per se exclusionary rule upon testimony concerning an identification that took place long before the commencement of any prosecution whatever.


    What has been said is not to suggest that there may not be occasions during the course of a criminal investigation when the police do abuse identification procedures. Such abuses are not beyond the reach of the Constitution. The judgment is affirmed.

    Mr. Justice BRENNAN, with whom Mr. Justice DOUGLAS and Mr. Justice MARSHALL join, dissenting.

    While it should go without saying, it appears necessary, in view of the plurality opinion today, to re-emphasize that Wade did not require the presence of counsel at pretrial confrontations for identification purposes simply on the basis of an abstract consideration of the words “criminal prosecutions” in the Sixth Amendment. Counsel is required at those confrontations because “the dangers inherent in eyewitness identification and the suggestibility inherent in the context of the pretrial identification” mean that protection must be afforded to the “most basic right [of] a criminal defendant—his right to a fair trial at which the witnesses against him might be meaningfully cross-examined.”

    An arrest evidences the belief of the police that the perpetrator of a crime has been caught. A post-arrest confrontation for identification is not “a mere preparatory step in the gathering of the prosecution’s evidence.” A primary, and frequently sole, purpose of the confrontation for identification at that stage is to accumulate proof to buttress the conclusion of the police that they have the offender in hand. The plurality offers no reason, and I can think of none, for concluding that a post-arrest confrontation for identification, unlike a post-charge confrontation, is not among those “critical confrontations of the accused by the prosecution at pretrial proceedings where the results might well settle the accused’s fate and reduce the trial itself to a mere formality.”

    The highly suggestive form of confrontation employed in this case underscores the point. This showup was particularly fraught with the peril of mistaken identification. In the setting of a police station squad room where all present except petitioner and Bean were police officers, the danger was quite real that Shard’s understandable resentment might lead him too readily to agree with the police that the pair under arrest, and the only persons exhibited to him, were indeed the robbers. “It is hard to imagine a situation more clearly conveying the suggestion to the witness that the one presented is believed guilty by the police.” The State had no case without Shard’s identification testimony,2 and safeguards against that consequence were therefore of critical importance. Shard’s testimony itself demonstrates the necessity for such safeguards. On direct examination, Shard identified petitioner and Bean not as the alleged robbers on trial in the courtroom, but as the pair he saw at the police station. His testimony thus lends strong support to the observation that “[i]t is a matter of common experience that, once a witness has picked out the accused at the line-up, he is not likely to go back on his word later on, so that in practice the issue of identity may [in the absence of other relevant evidence] for all practical purposes be determined there and then, before the trial.”

    Wade and Gilbert, of course, happened to involve post-indictment confrontations. Yet even a cursory perusal of the opinions in those cases reveals that nothing at all turned upon that particular circumstance. For my part, I do not agree that we “extend” Wade and Gilbert by holding that the principles of those cases apply to confrontations for identification conducted after arrest. Because Shard testified at trial about his identification of petitioner at the police station showup, the exclusionary rule of Gilbert requires reversal.

    * * *

    Wade and Gilbert involved in-person identification of suspects by witnesses. In the next case, the Court considered whether to apply the rules of those cases to identification procedures conducted outside the presence of the suspect, such as a witness review of a photo array.

    Supreme Court of the United States

    United States v. Charles J. Ash, Jr.

    Decided June 21, 1973 – 413 U.S. 300

    Mr. Justice BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.

    In this case the Court is called upon to decide whether the Sixth Amendment grants an accused the right to have counsel present whenever the Government conducts a post-indictment photographic display, containing a picture of the accused, for the purpose of allowing a witness to attempt an identification of the offender. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, sitting en banc, held, by a 5-to-4 vote, that the accused possesses this right to counsel. The court’s holding is inconsistent with decisions of the courts of appeals of nine other circuits. We granted certiorari to resolve the conflict and to decide this important constitutional question. We reverse and remand.


    On the morning of August 26, 1965, a man with a stocking mask entered a bank in Washington, D.C., and began waving a pistol. He ordered an employee to hang up the telephone and instructed all others present not to move. Seconds later a second man, also wearing a stocking mask, entered the bank, scooped up money from tellers’ drawers into a bag, and left. The gunman followed, and both men escaped through an alley. The robbery lasted three or four minutes.

    A Government informer, Clarence McFarland, told authorities that he had discussed the robbery with Charles J. Ash, Jr., the respondent here. Acting on this information, an FBI agent, in February 1966, showed five black-and-white mug shots of [Black] males of generally the same age, height, and weight, one of which was of Ash, to four witnesses. All four made uncertain identifications of Ash’s picture. At this time Ash was not in custody and had not been charged. On April 1, 1966, an indictment was returned charging Ash and a codefendant, John L. Bailey, in five counts related to this bank robbery.

    Trial was finally set for May 1968, almost three years after the crime. In preparing for trial, the prosecutor decided to use a photographic display to determine whether the witnesses he planned to call would be able to make in-court identifications. Shortly before the trial, an FBI agent and the prosecutor showed five color photographs to the four witnesses who previously had tentatively identified the black-and-white photograph of Ash. Three of the witnesses selected the picture of Ash, but one was unable to make any selection. None of the witnesses selected the picture of Bailey which was in the group. This post-indictment identification provides the basis for respondent Ash’s claim that he was denied the right to counsel at a “critical stage” of the prosecution.

    No motion for severance was made, and Ash and Bailey were tried jointly. The trial judge held a hearing on the suggestive nature of the pretrial photographic displays. The judge did not make a clear ruling on suggestive nature, but held that the Government had demonstrated by “clear and convincing” evidence that in-court identifications would be “based on observation of the suspect other than the intervening observation.”

    At trial, the three witnesses who had been inside the bank identified Ash as the gunman, but they were unwilling to state that they were certain of their identifications. None of these made an in-court identification of Bailey. The fourth witness, who had been in a car outside the bank and who had seen the fleeing robbers after they had removed their masks, made positive in-court identifications of both Ash and Bailey. Bailey’s counsel then sought to impeach this in-court identification by calling the FBI agent who had shown the color photographs to the witnesses immediately before trial. Bailey’s counsel demonstrated that the witness who had identified Bailey in court had failed to identify a color photograph of Bailey. During the course of the examination, Bailey’s counsel also, before the jury, brought out the fact that this witness had selected another man as one of the robbers. At this point the prosecutor became concerned that the jury might believe that the witness had selected a third person when, in fact, the witness had selected a photograph of Ash. After a conference at the bench, the trial judge ruled that all five color photographs would be admitted into evidence. The Court of Appeals held that this constituted the introduction of a post-indictment identification at the prosecutor’s request and over the objection of defense counsel.

    McFarland testified as a Government witness. He said he had discussed plans for the robbery with Ash before the event and, later, had discussed the results of the robbery with Ash in the presence of Bailey. McFarland was shown to possess an extensive criminal record and a history as an informer.

    The jury convicted Ash on all counts. It was unable to reach a verdict on the charges against Bailey, and his motion for acquittal was granted. Ash received concurrent sentences on the several counts, the two longest being 80 months to 12 years.

    The five-member majority of the Court of Appeals held that Ash’s right to counsel, guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment, was violated when his attorney was not given the opportunity to be present at the photographic displays conducted in May 1968 before the trial.


    [The Court reviewed the historical significance of the Sixth Amendment.] This historical background suggests that the core purpose of the counsel guarantee was to assure “Assistance” at trial, when the accused was confronted with both the intricacies of the law and the advocacy of the public prosecutor. Later developments have led this Court to recognize that “Assistance” would be less than meaningful if it were limited to the formal trial itself.

    This extension of the right to counsel to events before trial has resulted from changing patterns of criminal procedure and investigation that have tended to generate pretrial events that might appropriately be considered to be parts of the trial itself. At these newly emerging and significant events, the accused was confronted, just as at trial, by the procedural system, or by his expert adversary, or by both.

    The Court consistently has applied a historical interpretation of the guarantee, and has expanded the constitutional right to counsel only when new contexts appear presenting the same dangers that gave birth initially to the right itself.

    Throughout this expansion of the counsel guarantee to trial-like confrontations, the function of the lawyer has remained essentially the same as his function at trial. In all cases considered by the Court, counsel has continued to act as a spokesman for, or advisor to, the accused. The accused’s right to the “Assistance of Counsel” has meant just that, namely, the right of the accused to have counsel acting as his assistant.

    This review of the history and expansion of the Sixth Amendment counsel guarantee demonstrates that the test utilized by the Court has called for examination of the event in order to determine whether the accused required aid in coping with legal problems or assistance in meeting his adversary. Against the background of this traditional test, we now consider the opinion of the Court of Appeals.


    Although the Court of Appeals’ majority recognized the argument that “a major purpose behind the right to counsel is to protect the defendant from errors that he himself might make if he appeared in court alone,” the court concluded that “other forms of prejudice,” mentioned and recognized in Wade, could also give rise to a right to counsel. These forms of prejudice were felt by the court to flow from the possibilities for mistaken identification inherent in the photographic display.

    We conclude that the dangers of mistaken identification, mentioned in Wade, were removed from context by the Court of Appeals and were incorrectly utilized as a sufficient basis for requiring counsel. Although Wade did discuss possibilities for suggestion and the difficulty for reconstructing suggestivity, this discussion occurred only after the Court had concluded that the lineup constituted a trial-like confrontation, requiring the “Assistance of Counsel” to preserve the adversary process by compensating for advantages of the prosecuting authorities.

    The above discussion of Wade has shown that the traditional Sixth Amendment test easily allowed extension of counsel to a lineup. The similarity to trial was apparent, and counsel was needed to render “Assistance” in counterbalancing any “overreaching” by the prosecution.

    The Court of Appeals considered its analysis complete after it decided that a photographic display lacks scientific precision and ease of accurate reconstruction at trial. That analysis, under Wade, however, merely carries one to the point where one must establish that the trial itself can provide no substitute for counsel if a pretrial confrontation is conducted in the absence of counsel.

    We now undertake the threshold analysis that must be addressed.


    A substantial departure from the historical test would be necessary if the Sixth Amendment were interpreted to give Ash a right to counsel at the photographic identification in this case. Since the accused himself is not present at the time of the photographic display, and asserts no right to be present, no possibility arises that the accused might be misled by his lack of familiarity with the law or overpowered by his professional adversary. Similarly, the counsel guarantee would not be used to produce equality in a trial-like adversary confrontation. Rather, the guarantee was used by the Court of Appeals to produce confrontation at an event that previously was not analogous to an adversary trial.

    Even if we were willing to view the counsel guarantee in broad terms as a generalized protection of the adversary process, we would be unwilling to go so far as to extend the right to a portion of the prosecutor’s trial-preparation interviews with witnesses. Although photography is relatively new, the interviewing of witnesses before trial is a procedure that predates the Sixth Amendment. The traditional counterbalance in the American adversary system for these interviews arises from the equal ability of defense counsel to seek and interview witnesses himself.

    That adversary mechanism remains as effective for a photographic display as for other parts of pretrial interviews. No greater limitations are placed on defense counsel in constructing displays, seeking witnesses, and conducting photographic identifications than those applicable to the prosecution. Selection of the picture of a person other than the accused, or the inability of a witness to make any selection, will be useful to the defense in precisely the same manner that the selection of a picture of the defendant would be useful to the prosecution. In this very case, for example, the initial tender of the photographic display was by Bailey’s counsel, who sought to demonstrate that the witness had failed to make a photographic identification. Although we do not suggest that equality of access to photographs removes all potential for abuse, it does remove any inequality in the adversary process itself and thereby fully satisfies the historical spirit of the Sixth Amendment’s counsel guarantee.

    The argument has been advanced that requiring counsel might compel the police to observe more scientific procedures or might encourage them to utilize corporeal rather than photographic displays. This Court recognized that improved procedures can minimize the dangers of suggestion. Commentators have also proposed more accurate techniques.

    Pretrial photographic identifications, however, are hardly unique in offering possibilities for the actions of the prosecutor unfairly to prejudice the accused. Evidence favorable to the accused may be withheld; testimony of witnesses may be manipulated; the results of laboratory tests may be contrived. In many ways the prosecutor, by accident or by design, may improperly subvert the trial. The primary safeguard against abuses of this kind is the ethical responsibility of the prosecutor, who, as so often has been said, may “strike hard blows” but not “foul ones.” If that safeguard fails, review remains available under due process standards. These same safeguards apply to misuse of photographs.

    We are not persuaded that the risks inherent in the use of photographic displays are so pernicious that an extraordinary system of safeguards is required.

    We hold, then, that the Sixth Amendment does not grant the right to counsel at photographic displays conducted by the Government for the purpose of allowing a witness to attempt an identification of the offender. This holding requires reversal of the judgment of the Court of Appeals. Reversed and remanded.

    Mr. Justice BRENNAN, with whom Mr. Justice DOUGLAS and Mr. Justice MARSHALL join, dissenting.

    The Court holds today that a pretrial display of photographs to the witnesses of a crime for the purpose of identifying the accused, unlike a lineup, does not constitute a “critical stage” of the prosecution at which the accused is constitutionally entitled to the presence of counsel. In my view, today’s decision is wholly unsupportable in terms of such considerations as logic, consistency, and, indeed, fairness. As a result, I must reluctantly conclude that today’s decision marks simply another step towards the complete evisceration of the fundamental constitutional principles established by this Court.

    As the Court of Appeals recognized, “the dangers of mistaken identification … set forth in Wade are applicable in large measure to photographic as well as corporeal identifications.” To the extent that misidentification may be attributable to a witness’ faulty memory or perception, or inadequate opportunity for detailed observation during the crime, the risks are obviously as great at a photographic display as at a lineup. But “[b]ecause of the inherent limitations of photography, which presents its subject in two dimensions rather than the three dimensions of reality, … a photographic identification, even when properly obtained, is clearly inferior to a properly obtained corporeal identification.”

    Moreover, as in the lineup situation, the possibilities for impermissible suggestion in the context of a photographic display are manifold. Such suggestion, intentional or unintentional, may derive from three possible sources. First, the photographs themselves might tend to suggest which of the pictures is that of the suspect. For example, differences in age, pose, or other physical characteristics of the persons represented, and variations in the mounting, background, lighting, or markings of the photographs all might have the effect of singling out the accused.

    Second, impermissible suggestion may inhere in the manner in which the photographs are displayed to the witness. The danger of misidentification is, of course, “increased if the police display to the witness … the pictures of several persons among which the photograph of a single such individual recurs or is in some way emphasized.” And, if the photographs are arranged in an asymmetrical pattern, or if they are displayed in a time sequence that tends to emphasize a particular photograph, “any identification of the photograph which stands out from the rest is no more reliable than an identification of a single photograph, exhibited alone.”

    Third, gestures or comments of the prosecutor at the time of the display may lead an otherwise uncertain witness to select the “correct” photograph. More subtly, the prosecutor’s inflection, facial expressions, physical motions, and myriad other almost imperceptible means of communication might tend, intentionally or unintentionally, to compromise the witness’ objectivity.

    Moreover, as with lineups, the defense can “seldom reconstruct” at trial the mode and manner of photographic identification. Finally, and unlike the lineup situation, the accused himself is not even present at the photographic identification, thereby reducing the likelihood that irregularities in the procedures will ever come to light.

    Thus, the difficulties of reconstructing at trial an uncounseled photographic display are at least equal to, and possibly greater than, those involved in reconstructing an uncounseled lineup. As a result, both photographic and corporeal identifications create grave dangers that an innocent defendant might be convicted simply because of his inability to expose a tainted identification. This being so, considerations of logic, consistency, and, indeed, fairness compel the conclusion that a pretrial photographic identification, like a pretrial corporeal identification, is a “critical stage of the prosecution at which [the accused is] ‘as much entitled to such aid (of counsel) … as at the trial itself.’”

    Ironically, the Court does not seriously challenge the proposition that presence of counsel at a pretrial photographic display is essential to preserve the accused’s right to a fair trial on the issue of identification. Rather, in what I can only characterize a triumph of form over substance, the Court seeks to justify its result by engrafting a wholly unprecedented—and wholly unsupportable-limitation on the Sixth Amendment right of “the accused … to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.” Although apparently conceding that the right to counsel attaches, not only at the trial itself, but at all “critical stages” of the prosecution, the Court holds today that, in order to be deemed “critical,” the particular “stage of the prosecution” under consideration must, at the very least, involve the physical “presence of the accused,” at a “trial-like confrontation” with the Government, at which the accused requires the “guiding hand of counsel.” According to the Court a pretrial photographic identification does not, of course, meet these criteria.

    The fundamental premise underlying all of this Court’s decisions holding the right to counsel applicable at “critical” pretrial proceedings, is that a “stage” of the prosecution must be deemed “critical” for the purposes of the Sixth Amendment if it is one at which the presence of counsel is necessary “to protect the fairness of the trial itself.”

    This established conception of the Sixth Amendment guarantee is, of course, in no sense dependent upon the physical “presence of the accused,” at a “trial-like confrontation” with the Government, at which the accused requires the “guiding hand of counsel.” On the contrary, in Powell v. Alabama, the seminal decision in this area, we explicitly held the right to counsel applicable at a stage of the pretrial proceedings involving none of the three criteria set forth by the Court today.

    Moreover, despite the Court’s efforts to rewrite Wade so as to suggest a precedential basis for its own analysis, the rationale of Wade lends no support whatever to today’s decision.

    There is something ironic about the Court’s conclusion today that a pretrial lineup identification is a “critical stage” of the prosecution because counsel’s presence can help to compensate for the accused’s deficiencies as an observer, but that a pretrial photographic identification is not a “critical stage” of the prosecution because the accused is not able to observe at all. In my view, there simply is no meaningful difference, in terms of the need for attendance of counsel, between corporeal and photographic identifications. And applying established and well-reasoned Sixth Amendment principles, I can only conclude that a pretrial photographic display, like a pretrial lineup, is a “critical stage” of the prosecution at which the accused is constitutionally entitled to the presence of counsel.

    * * *

    In our next two chapters, we examine the Court’s substantive regulation of identification procedures. Specifically, we will identify what methods of witness identification are so unreliable that the Court has found them to violate a defendant’s right to due process of law.