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People v. Lee

Court of Appeals of the State of New York
May 8, 2001
96 N.Y.2d 157 (N.Y. 2001)

Summary

rejecting a per se inadmissible rule

Summary of this case from State v. Maner

Opinion

May 8, 2001.

Appeal, by permission of an Associate Judge of the Court of Appeals, from an order of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in the First Judicial Department, entered December 7, 1999, which affirmed a judgment of the Supreme Court (Budd G. Goodman, J., at pretrial hearing; Frederic S. Berman, J., at trial and sentence), rendered in New York County upon a verdict convicting defendant of robbery in the first degree.

Catharine F. Easterly, for appellant.

Susan Gliner, for respondent.

The Legal Aid Society, Criminal Appeals Bureau et al., amici curiae.

Chief Judge Kaye and Judges Smith, Levine, Ciparick, Wesley and Rosenblatt concur.


In the eleven years since People v. Mooney ( 76 N.Y.2d 827), this Court has not been presented with an opportunity to revisit the admissibility of expert testimony proffered on the issue of the reliability of eyewitness identification. We now hold that, while such expert testimony is not inadmissible per se, the decision whether to admit it rests in the sound discretion of the trial court. Here, the Trial Court did not abuse that discretion in denying its introduction.

In the early morning, Michael Perani's car was stolen at gunpoint in Manhattan. The robbery occurred in an area that was well illuminated by a street lamp and lights from a nearby store. Perani stood only four or five feet from defendant and exchanged words with him during the brief encounter. Defendant drove off with the vehicle and Perani telephoned for assistance, but the police were unable to locate defendant.

Defendant was arrested two months later, after he was stopped for a traffic violation and discovered driving Perani's stolen vehicle. It was not until more than six months from the arrest that the detective assigned to the robbery learned that defendant had been found in possession of Perani's automobile. Upon acquiring this information, the detective compiled a photographic array, which he displayed to Perani, who identified defendant as the person who stole his car. Ten days later, Perani again identified defendant in a lineup.

Defendant was charged with criminal possession of stolen property in the third degree and fourth degree, and unauthorized use of a vehicle. Subsequently, the felony criminal possession charges were reduced to a misdemeanor charge of criminal possession of stolen property in the fifth degree. The record does not reveal how these charges were resolved.

During a pre-trial hearing, defendant moved to introduce at trial the testimony of a "psychological expert" for the purpose of explaining to the jury the factors that may influence the perception and memory of a witness and affect the reliability of identification testimony. Defense counsel's affirmation stated that "the expert would testify how factors such as the duration of an encounter, the passage of time, stress involved in an encounter, assimilation of post-incident information and race, have been shown by the scientific community to affect memory and eyewitness identification. The expert also would testify about the absence of correlation between eyewitness confidence and the accuracy of an identification." The Hearing Court summarily denied the application.

The action proceeded to trial before a different Justice. During the People's case-in-chief, defendant renewed his request to introduce expert testimony regarding the reliability of eyewitness identification, referencing his earlier written motion and an off-the-record sidebar discussion from the first day of trial. Specifically, defendant contended that the passage of time between the crime and the identification, the trauma of robbery and the lack of correlation between confidence and accuracy of identifications were issues for an expert to explain. The court initially considered whether it was bound by the Hearing Court's earlier ruling, but proceeded to address defendant's motion and ultimately denied it.

The jury convicted defendant of one count of robbery in the first degree and he was sentenced to an indeterminate prison term of 4 to 12 years. The Appellate Division unanimously affirmed the judgment of conviction and sentence ( 267 A.D.2d 42). A Judge of this Court granted defendant leave to appeal ( 95 N.Y.2d 836), and we now affirm.

Although the issue of admissibility of expert testimony regarding the reliability of eyewitness identification has been addressed in other jurisdictions (see generally, 1 McCormick, Evidence § 206, at 776-779 [5th ed 1999]), it remains an unresolved issue in this State (see, People v. Alexander, 94 N.Y.2d 382; People v. Mooney, 76 N.Y.2d 827).

As a general rule, the admissibility and limits of expert testimony lie primarily in the sound discretion of the trial court. "It is for the trial court in the first instance to determine when jurors are able to draw conclusions from the evidence based on their day-to-day experience, their common observation and their knowledge, and when they would be benefitted by the specialized knowledge of an expert witness" (People v. Cronin, 60 N.Y.2d 430, 433). Essentially, the trial court assesses whether the proffered expert testimony "would aid a lay jury in reaching a verdict" (People v. Taylor, 75 N.Y.2d 277, 288). In rendering this determination, courts should be wary not to exclude such testimony merely because, to some degree, it invades the jury's province. As we have previously noted, "[e]xpert opinion testimony is used in partial substitution for the jury's otherwise exclusive province which is to draw `conclusions from the facts.' It is a kind of authorized encroachment in that respect" (People v. Jones, 73 N.Y.2d 427, 430- 431 [internal citation omitted] [quoting People v. Cronin, supra, 60 N.Y.2d, at 432]).

Despite the fact that jurors may be familiar from their own experience with factors relevant to the reliability of eyewitness observation and identification, it cannot be said that psychological studies regarding the accuracy of an identification are within the ken of the typical juror (see, People v. Cronin, supra, 60 N.Y.2d, at 433). Moreover, in recognition that expert testimony of this nature may involve novel scientific theories and techniques, a trial court may need to determine whether the proffered expert testimony is generally accepted by the relevant scientific community (see, People v. Wesley, 83 N.Y.2d 417, 423-429).

Applying this framework to the case at bar, we note that in summarily rejecting defendant's motion on the ground that such testimony was per se inadmissible, the Hearing Court failed to exercise its discretion. The Trial Court, however, subsequently entertained defendant's renewed request for the introduction of expert testimony. Since the motion was considered during the People's case-in-chief, the court was in a position to weigh the request against other relevant factors, such as the centrality of the identification issue and the existence of corroborating evidence. For example, by this stage of the proceedings, the court had heard testimony regarding the circumstances under which Perani observed defendant during the incident. Testimony had also been elicited from the police officer who arrested defendant while in possession of Perani's stolen vehicle. Hence, the court was aware of corroborating evidence in addition to the identification testimony. Given the particular facts and circumstances of this case, we cannot say the Trial Court's denial of defendant's motion constituted an abuse of discretion.

Additionally, contrary to defendant's contention, the photographic array presented to Perani was not unduly suggestive. Both the Hearing Court and the Appellate Division found that, although there were slight differences among the six photographs that comprised the array, all of the persons depicted were similar in appearance. We conclude that the subtle differences in the photographs, including the arrest plates, were not "sufficient to create a substantial likelihood that the defendant would be singled out for identification" (People v. Chipp, 75 N.Y.2d 327, 336).

Defendant's contentions with respect to alleged instances of prosecutorial misconduct are without merit. Further, the constitutional challenge to the Trial Court's denial of defendant's request for testimony from the 911 operator who received Perani's initial telephone call describing his assailant is not preserved for our review. To the extent defendant claims this denial was an evidentiary error, we hold that any such error was harmless (see, People v. Crimmins, 36 N.Y.2d 230, 238-243).

Accordingly, the order of the Appellate Division should be affirmed.

Order affirmed.


Summaries of

People v. Lee

Court of Appeals of the State of New York
May 8, 2001
96 N.Y.2d 157 (N.Y. 2001)

rejecting a per se inadmissible rule

Summary of this case from State v. Maner

In Lee, the Court of Appeals held that expert testimony on the issue of the reliability of eyewitness identification "is not inadmissible per se" and that "the decision whether to admit it rests in the sound discretion of the trial court."

Summary of this case from Daly v. Lee

asking whether the differences in the photographs were sufficient to create a substantial likelihood that the defendant would be singled out for identification

Summary of this case from WALKER v. ZON

In People v Lee (96 NY2d 157) (decided after the trial court's ruling in this case), we held that the decision to admit or exclude evidence of this sort is a discretionary one.

Summary of this case from People v. Young

In People v Lee (96 NY2d 157), this Court unanimously stated that a trial court has discretion to allow expert testimony on the reliability of eyewitness identification where it determines the expert would assist the jury in reaching a verdict.

Summary of this case from People v. Young

In People v. Lee (96 N.Y.2d 157, 162), we recently restated the long-standing general rule that "the admissibility and limits of expert testimony lie primarily in the sound discretion of the trial court."

Summary of this case from People v. Brown

allowing trial testimony by expert on eyewitness identification in court's discretion

Summary of this case from People v. Chuyn

allowing trial testimony by expert on eyewitness identification in court's discretion

Summary of this case from People v. Chuyn

allowing trial testimony by expert on eyewitness identification in court's discretion

Summary of this case from People v. Chuyn

In People v Lee (96 NY2d 157), the Court revisited the issue of the admissibility of such expert testimony and held it "is not inadmissible per se" and the decision whether to admit it rests within the sound discretion of the trial court (id. at 160), even when "to some degree, it invades the jury's province."

Summary of this case from People v. Williams

In Lee, the Court of Appeals cautioned trial courts to be wary not to exclude expert psychological evidence merely because, to some degree, it invades the jury's province.

Summary of this case from People v. Kogut

In People v. Lee (96 NY2d 157), the Court of Appeals considered the admissibility of expert psychological testimony concerning the reliability of eyewitness identification.

Summary of this case from People v. Kogut

In People v. Lee, 96 N.Y. 2d 157, 160 (2001) the Court of Appeals held that expert testimony about eyewitness identification does not per se invade the province of the jury and is thus not "inadmissible per se" but "the decision whether to admit it rests in the sound discretion of the trial court".

Summary of this case from People v. Smith

In Lee, the Court anticipated that "expert testimony of this nature may involve novel scientific theories and techniques, [in which case] a trial court may need to determine whether the proffered expert testimony is generally accepted by the relevant scientific community."

Summary of this case from People v. Smith

In Lee, the trial court apparently accepted that there existed valid expert testimony on identification that was relevant to a determination of the accuracy of the identification in that case.

Summary of this case from People v. Radcliffe
Case details for

People v. Lee

Case Details

Full title:THE PEOPLE c., RESPONDENT, v. ANTHONY LEE, APPELLANT

Court:Court of Appeals of the State of New York

Date published: May 8, 2001

Citations

96 N.Y.2d 157 (N.Y. 2001)
726 N.Y.S.2d 361
750 N.E.2d 63

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