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Opinion examines use of sole eyewitness testimony

June 13, 2012

The Indiana Court of Appeals delved into the issues surrounding the reliance on just one witness’s identification and testimony regarding the person who robbed her to convict the defendant.

In Anthony D. Gorman v. State of Indiana, No. 49A05-1110-CR-556, Anthony Gorman appealed his convictions of two counts of Class B felony robbery while armed with a deadly weapon. He was accused of robbing at gunpoint a couple while they sat in their car. The woman, Samantha Daniels, positively identified Gorman as the man who robbed them and testified that she was “100 percent” sure it was Gorman. Prosecutors didn’t recover the gun allegedly used in the crime.

Gorman argued that there should be some kind of evidence corroborating the identification by Daniels in order for there to be sufficient evidence to support his conviction. But Indiana Supreme Court precedent, Richardson v. State, 270 Ind. 566, 569, 388 N.E.2d 488, 491 (1979), holds that where a defendant’s conviction is based upon his identification as the perpetrator by a sole eyewitness, such identification is sufficient to sustain a conviction if the identification was unequivocal.

Under this precedent, Daniels’ in-court identification of Gorman as the robber was sufficient to support his convictions, the judges held. They also concluded that there is sufficient evidence to show he possessed a deadly weapon when he robbed the Danielses, finding that even though the couple’s testimony regarding the gun didn’t match, both said they saw Gorman with a gun.

The appellate court did explore other cases and studies on reliability issues that may arise with eyewitness identification, as well as instances of people being falsely convicted based on inaccurate eyewitness identifications. The court found it would be unwise to alter the rule stated in Richardson, thus allowing appellate courts to second-guess a fact-finder’s assessment of testimony.

“There would be potentially substantial criminal justice costs if a sole eyewitness’s identification of a defendant were not enough to sustain a conviction. Often times, despite the efforts of law enforcement, there simply is no other evidence to be found,” wrote Judge Michael Barnes.

 

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