The most important part of any criminal case is identification. Whether your case is prosecuted in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or Palm Beach, the prosecution must prove that you are the actual offender who committed the crime in question – assuming a crime was even committed in the first place. The concept of “identification” in a criminal case may seem obvious, but there are many cases where proving that a crime occurred is easy, but proving who did it is impossible.
Take sexual battery for example: There are many cases where a victim simply cannot identify his/her attacker beyond describing their race and general features (big/small, fat/skinny, older/younger, etc.). It is one thing to generally describe a person’s appearance, it is another to specifically point out an individual and say “thats the guy”. In other cases, victims of crime have near photographic memory of what their attacker looked like and can quickly identify that person.
Initial Questions to Ask Regarding Identification:
- Are the parties strangers or do they know each other?
- How long did the encounter last? Second? Minutes? Hours?
- Was there an element of stress or violence involved?
- Was the victim under the influence of alcohol or drugs?
- Was the identifying witness’s vision obscured in some way, whether due to an obstacle, distance, lighting conditions, or another cause?
- Are there forensic means to identify the offender, such as DNA, fingerprints, fiber evidence, or electronic evidence?
- Did the offender admit that he/she is the person or did the offender place him/herself at the scene of the crime?
The type of sex offense or other crime charged by the prosecution does not minimize the identification requirement. Whether the charge is sexual battery, lewd and lascivious molestation, lewd and lascivious battery, possession of child pornography, enticement of a minor, or child abuse… the prosecution must admit specific evidence that the defendant is the actual person who committed the alleged crime.
How Does the Prosecutor Prove Identification?
In most cases, the prosecution typically proves identity using eye witness testimony. A witness simply takes the stand and points out the defendant in court as the person who committed the crime. However, eye-witness testimony has been proven to be the most unreliable form of identification used in court, especially when the eye witness and the person being identified are strangers.
For example, did you know that misidentification by eye witnesses was the leading cause of false convictions in the 239 cases overturned (as of October 2010) by the Innocence Project? Of the 239 people the Innocence Project has exonerated, 179 were wrongly convicted due to misidentification by eye witnesses!
Analyzing proof of identity is the first thing your criminal defense lawyer should do. In some cases proof of identity is obvious. In others it is very complicated. When your defense attorney examines your case, he or she should consider the following questions:
- Can the alleged victim or eye witnesses positively identify you as the offender?
- Does the age or infirmity of the alleged victim or eye witness prevent that person from making an accurate and reliable identification?
- Has the alleged victim or eye witness provided an inconsistent or contradictory description of the offender?
- If there is more than one victim, is there more than one description of the offender?
- Do the descriptions given by the alleged victim(s) or eye witness(es) contradict each other or are they consistent?
- Is there more than one offender? If so, which offender is responsible for which actions? Who was the primary actor? Who was the follower? Did the offenders act in conjunction with each other?
- In what ways do you resemble or differ from the description or sketch of the offender(s)?
- Was the alleged victim or eye witness presented with a photo-line up? If so, were you pointed out by the victim? Was the photo line-up conducted objectively? Was the photo line-up done according to the requirements of law? Were the photographs used in the line-up inappropriately suggestive?
- Were you the only suspect presented to the alleged victim(s) or eye witness(es) for identification?
- What efforts, if any, did police make to rule out or identify other possible suspects?
- Was the alleged victim or eye witness under the influence of any coercion, stress, or pressure when identifying you as the offender?
- Did law enforcement make any suggestive remarks or comments that may have influenced the alleged victim’s or eye witness’s identification or statement?
- Is there evidence other than eye witness or victim testimony that proves your identity, such as DNA, video surveillance footage, fingerprints, etc.?
Ultimately, each case rests on its own specific set of facts and circumstances. Before any concrete conclusions can be drawn about your case, a full review must be made by an experienced criminal defense attorney.