Neil v. Biggers Case Brief

Why is the case important?

The constitutionality of a station house identification by the victim of a rape was at issue.

Facts of the case

“A Tennessee state court convicted Archie Biggers in the rape of Margaret Beamer. The only major evidence against him was Ms. Beamer’s identification several weeks after the incident at a police station “show up”. The “show up” was similar to a line up, but contained the suspect alone. The police officer also had the suspect say phrases Ms. Beamer heard her attacker say on the night of the rape. Ms. Beamer said she had “no doubt” that Biggers was her attacker. The Tennessee Supreme Court upheld the conviction. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed by an equally divided court.Biggers then filed a writ of habeas corpus, which the district court granted, holding that the Supreme Court affirming by an equally divided court did not bar the writ. The court also held that the “show up” procedure was so suggestive that it violated due process. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed.”


Whether the station house identification procedure was so suggestive (not reliable) to violate due process?


“The majority observed first of all, it is apparent that the primary evil to be avoided is ‘a very substantial likelihood of irreparable misidentification.’Â&nbsp

  • What is less clear from our cases is whether, as intimated by the District Court, unnecessary suggestiveness alone requires the exclusion of evidence. The purpose of a strict rule barring evidence of unnecessarily suggestive confrontations would be to deter the police from using a less reliable procedure where a more reliable one may be available, and would not be based on the assumption that in every instance the admission of evidence of such a confrontation offends due process.Â&nbsp
  • As indicated by the court’s cases, the factors to be considered in evaluating the likelihood of misidentification include the opportunity of the witness to view the criminal at the time of the crime, the witness’ degree of attention, the accuracy of the witness’ prior description of the criminal, the level of certainty demonstrated by the witness at the confrontation, and the length of time between the crime and the confrontation.”


    “On certiorari, the United States Supreme Court reversed in part and remanded the case. The Court unanimously held that although the federal habeas corpus statute would preclude relitigation of issues “”actually adjudicated by the Supreme Court”” in a prior criminal proceeding, the Supreme Court’s affirmance by an equally divided court did not constitute such an actual adjudication as to fall within the bar

  • the Court further held that although the station-house showup procedure was unnecessarily suggestive, it was not so suggestive as to violate due process. Rather, given that the victim of the rape spent a considerable period of time with her assailant and that her description to the police was more than ordinarily thorough, there was no substantial likelihood of misidentification such that the evidence of the identification did not have to be excluded. Thus, the District Court’s conclusions on the critical facts were unsupported by the record and clearly erroneous.”
    • Case Brief: 1972
    • Petitioner: William S. Neil, Warden of the Tennessee State Penitentiary
    • Respondent: Archie Nathaniel Biggers
    • Decided by: Burger Court

    Citation: 409 US 188 (1972)
    Argued: Oct 18 – 19, 1972
    Decided: Dec 6, 1972
    Granted Feb 28, 1972