August 29, 2016 Articles

Rules Clarified for Admitting Identification Evidence in Illinois

The defendant should be able to examine the officer outside the jury's presence to explore familiarity, bias, or prejudice

by Michael R. Lied

People v. Thompson, 49 N.E.3d 393 (Ill. 2016), provides useful guidance on the admissibility of lay witness testimony for purposes of identifying a defendant. In Thompson, the Illinois Supreme Court held as a matter of first impression that: (1) a showing of sustained contact and/or special knowledge of the defendant is not a prerequisite to a lay witness giving identification testimony; (2) there is no per se rule against admission of a law enforcement officer’s identification testimony; and (3) when introducing lay opinion identification testimony from a law enforcement officer, the trial court should give the defendant an opportunity to examine the officer outside the presence of the jury. The key to admissibility is whether the lay witness is more likely than the jury to identify the defendant correctly. Whether lay opinion identification testimony is helpful is based on a totality of the circumstances. 

In Thompson, a jury convicted the defendant of violating the Illinois Methamphetamine Control and Community Protection Act. At trial, the trial judge admitted lay opinion identification testimony of four witnesses. Three of the witnesses were law enforcement, and the remaining witness was a woman who had once seen Thompson sleeping on a couch. All four witnesses identified Thompson as the person shown in surveillance videotape and photographs that were taken at the crime scene. 

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