Manson v. Brathwaite

PETITIONER:John R. Manson, Commissioner of Correction of the State of Connecticut
RESPONDENT:Nowell A. Brathwaite
LOCATION: Location of Drug Sale

DOCKET NO.: 75-871
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 432 US 98 (1977)
ARGUED: Nov 29, 1976
DECIDED: Jun 16, 1977
GRANTED: May 03, 1976

Bernard D. Gaffney – for petitioner
David S. Golub – for respondent

Facts of the case

An undercover police officer bought drugs from a narcotics vendor. The officer saw the vendor up close for several minutes. The officer described the vendor to another officer who obtained a photograph of Nowell A. Brathwaite and gave it to the first officer. The officer identified the Brathwaite as the narcotics vendor. At trial, the photograph was admitted as evidence and the officer again identified Brathwaite as the vendor. A jury convicted Brathwaite of possession and sale of heroin. The Connecticut Supreme Court affirmed. Brathwaite then filed a petition for a writ of habeus corpus in district court. The district court dismissed the petition, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed, holding that the officer’s identification was unreliable and the method of identification from a single photograph was unnecessarily suggestive.


Did the court of appeals err in allowing the police officer to identify Brathwaite from a single photograph?

Media for Manson v. Brathwaite

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – November 29, 1976 in Manson v. Brathwaite

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 16, 1977 in Manson v. Brathwaite

Harry A. Blackmun:

The next case is Number 75-871, Manson against Brathwaite which comes to us from the Second Circuit.

This focuses on the reliability of eye-witness identification.

The pertinent effect took place in Hartford, Connecticut.

Mr. Glover was a state trooper assigned to the Narcotics Division in an undercover capacity.

He purchased heroin from a seller through the open doorway of an apartment while he stood for two or three minutes within two feet of the seller in a hallway illuminated by natural light.

Only a few minutes later, Glover described the seller to another police officer and the latter suspecting from the description that respondent Brathwaite might be the seller left a police photograph of Brathwaite with Glover who viewed it two days later and identified it as the picture of his vendor.

Brahtwaite was charged in a Connecticut state court with possession and sale of heroin, and at his trial, held some eight months after the crime, the photograph was received in evidence without objection and Glover testified that there was no doubt whatsoever that the person shown in the photograph was Brathwaite and he also made a positive in-court identification without objection.

Brathwaite was convicted and the Supreme Court of Connecticut affirmed.

Brathwaite then went to habeas, alleging that the admission of the identification testimony deprived him of due process in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The District Court dismissed the petition and the Second Circuit however reversed holding that evidence as to the photograph should have been excluded regardless of reliability because the examination of the single photograph was unnecessary and suggestive, and in any event in this case was unreliable.

We reversed and hold the due process clause does not compel the exclusion of the identification evidence.

We regard reliability as the linchpin and determining the admissibility of identification testimony for both confrontations occurring both prior to and after a case decided here in 1967 called Stovall against Denno.

There the Court had held that the determination of reliability depends on the totality of the circumstances.

The factors to be considered include the witness’ opportunity to view the criminal at the time of the crime, the witness’ degree of attention, the accuracy of his prior description, the level of certainty demonstrated at the confrontation, and the time between the crime and the confrontation.

In this case, it does not, in our view, exists any substantial likelihood of irreparable misidentification.

Glover was no casual observer. He was a trained police officer.

He had a sufficient opportunity to view the suspect.

He described him accurately.

He positively identified the photograph and he made the identification within two days of the crime.

Mr. Justice Stevens while joining the opinion has filed a separate concurring opinion.

Mr. Justice Marshall has filed a dissenting opinion and then joined therein by Mr. Justice Brennan.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you, Mr. Justice Blackmun.