Foster v. California

RESPONDENT: California
LOCATION: United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1967-1969)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 394 US 440 (1969)
ARGUED: Nov 19, 1968
DECIDED: Apr 01, 1969

Facts of the case


Media for Foster v. California

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 19, 1968 in Foster v. California

Earl Warren:

Number 47, Walter B. Foster, Petitioner versus California.

Mr. Maddy.

Kenneth L. Maddy:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

Before this Court -- this matter is before this Court in the writ of certiorari to the Fifth District Court of Appeal in California limited to the question of whether the conduct of a police lineup resulted in the violation of petitioner's constitutional rights.

We make two contentions.

First, that the actions of the police in the conduct of two lineups and a personal confrontation between the petitioner, Walter Foster and a witness to an armed robbery unnecessarily was suggestive and conducive to irreparable mistake in identification.

This was a violation of Mr. Foster's rights under due process of law.

The second point is that the personal confrontation between Mr. Foster and the witness violated the privilege against self-incrimination.

This first issue was based on the holding in Stovall versus Denno which was decided last year by this Court with the other lineup decisions of United States versus Wade and Gilbert versus California.

I might point out that Foster's trial and the decision of the Fifth District Court of Appeal, the original trial result in a conviction of Mr. Foster and the Fifth District Court of Appeal in California affirmed occurred prior to the decisions in Stovall, Wade and Gilbert.

To properly pursue the question to due process which is our principal contention, I wish to review the facts of the case with particular emphasis on the events and circumstances surrounding the lineups.

The crime charge was armed robbery of a Western Union Office in Fresno in January 1966.

The victim was the late night manager.

He was the only witness to the robbery, a man by the name of Joseph David.

He testified that two men entered the office shortly after midnight on January 25, 1966 and after appearing to make out a MoneyGram, approached him at the counter with guns pointed at him and handed him a holdup note.

He described these two men as one tall individual dressed in coveralls with a hat pulled down over his face and visible under the coveralls a black leather jacket.

The shorter of the man was dressed as he described in casual clothes and a suit coat.

The man after handing the holdup note to him required him to open the safe and a money box to hand the money to the taller of the men at which time the taller men left the office.

The shorter man stayed three or four minutes later making certain threatening gestures to the witness.

Without relating in greater detail the facts of the crime, I wish to point out the significance of certain items.

First of all that the short time that the tall individual as indicated in the record was in the office, this man was ultimately described or stated by the witness to be Walter Foster, he was there three minutes at the outside perhaps six minutes.

Part of that time, the witness was facing a gun held by this tall robber.

The second is the contradiction in the description of the dress of the witness of the shorter man.

The shorter individual ultimately testified at time of trial.

And third was the fact that the witness changed the description of the coloring of the individual -- the tall individual at the time of trial because as he indicated the background of the office was such that he had to make this change at time of trial.

All these points go to the one fact that the witness had little chance for observation of the individuals that robbed the office that evening.

And as pointed out in the Wade decision, Mr. David was a likely suspect for prompting or for the effects of an improper lineup.

I mentioned that the witness ultimately described or stated that the tall individual was Walter Foster.

This was only after the two lineups and a personal confrontation to briefly complete the background of the case J. V. Clay, testified for the prosecution at the time of trial.

He indicated that he was the shorter man that robbed the Western Union office that night.