Biggers v. Tennessee

LOCATION: South Boston Court

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1967-1969)

CITATION: 390 US 404 (1968)
ARGUED: Jan 15, 1968
DECIDED: Mar 18, 1968

Facts of the case


Media for Biggers v. Tennessee

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 15, 1968 in Biggers v. Tennessee

Earl Warren:

Number 237, Archie Nathaniel Biggers, petitioner versus Tennessee.

Mr. Meltsner.

Michael Meltsner:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This case is here on writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of Tennessee to review a 16-year old boy’s conviction and sentenced to 20 years in prison for the crime of rape.

Because the primary question in this case is whether the total circumstances surrounding petitioner's identification and its use at trial violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

I intend to state the facts in some detail.

On the night of January 22, 1965 Mrs. Margaret Beamer, a Negro nurse was sewing in the living room of her Nashville, Tennessee home.

Her 12-year old daughter was in a bedroom, listening to phonograph records and a six-year old son was asleep in another bedroom.

The living room was a lit by a single lamp and the lights were off in an adjoining hallway and kitchen.

At about 9:10 pm Mrs. Beamer rose and entered this hallway.

She was grabbed from behind and pushed to the floor by an intruder holding a long butcher knife.

She began to scream and sob, and her 12-year old daughter came to the door of the adjacent bedroom and also began to scream when she saw her mother and the assailant.

Intruder then said, “Shut up or I'll kill you both, to the women,” and he had Mrs. Beamer order her daughter back into the bedroom.

He then forced her to walk through an unlit kitchen, out behind the house up in an embankment to some railroads tracks and took her to a place in the woods where he raped her.

The only light behind the house came from the moon, streetlights which were located in front of the house; there were no lights on the tracks.

Does the record show how old is the woman?

Michael Meltsner:

The only place it does is in newspaper story introduced in evidence by the prosecution, and I believe she is 39 from that story.

These events lasted from 10 to 30 minutes at the most and Mrs. Beamer testified that throughout she was frightened in fear and crying.

After the rape, the rapist ran away and Mrs. Beamer reported the crime to the police.

After she did this at dates and times and under circumstances which the record does not particularly reveal, she was shown 30 or 40 photographs from police files and saw a several suspects at headquarters.

However, the record is quite clear that she never was shown the petitioner in this case at these viewings.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Now let's see, what was the date of the incident?

Michael Meltsner:

Date of the incident was January 22, 1965.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

And what was the period over which she was shown these photographs?

Michael Meltsner:

The record does not say.

She was shown these photographs, but at no time did the state introduce evidence, showing the dates, how long over the period of time between the crime and the eventual identification proceeding.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

But the record does show, you're saying that none of the confrontation whether by photograph or otherwise, until she identified this petitioner, was this petitioner --?

Michael Meltsner:

Quite clearly, she was asked at one point, did you know who raped you before the pretrial identification.

She said no.

A police officer testified that he had never shown photographs of the petitioner to her, the petitioner took the stand, was not cross-examined about a criminal record.