Simmons v. United States Case Brief

Why is the case important?

A suitcase was found in the basement of an individual’s home after a robbery. The suitcase contained the gun used in the robbery and certain items taken during the robbery. There were three suspects in the robbery.

Facts of the case


Whether the Petitioner’s pretrial identification by means of photographs was in the circumstances so unnecessarily suggestive and conducive to misidentification as to deny him due process of law, or at least to require reversal of his conviction in the exercise of the court’s supervisory power over the lower federal courts?
Whether Garrett‘s constitutional rights were violated when testimony given by him in support of his ‘suppression’ motion was admitted against him at trial?


No. The Petitioner does not contend that he was entitled to counsel at the time the pictures were shown to the witnesses. Rather, he asserts simply that in the circumstances the identification procedure was so unduly prejudicial as fatally to taint his conviction. This is a claim which must be evaluated in light of the totality of surrounding circumstances. Despite the hazards of initial identification by photograph, this procedure has been used widely and effectively in criminal law enforcement, from the standpoint both of apprehending offenders and of sparing innocent suspects the ignominy of arrest by allowing eyewitnesses to exonerate them through scrutiny of photographs. The danger that use of the technique may result in convictions based on misidentification may be substantially lessened by a course of cross-examination at trial which exposes to the jury the method’s potential for error. The Court unwilling to prohibit its employment, either in the exercise of our
supervisory power or, still less, as a matter of constitutional requirement. Instead, we hold that each case must be considered on its own facts, and that convictions based on eyewitness identification at trial following a pretrial identification by photograph will be set aside on that ground only if the photographic identification procedure was so impermissibly suggestive as to give rise to a very substantial likelihood of irreparable misidentification.
Applying the standard to this case, the court concluded that the petitioner‘s claim on this score must fail. In the first place, it is not suggested that it was unnecessary for the FBI to resort to photographic identification in this instance. In the second place, there was in the circumstances of this case little chance that the procedure utilized led to misidentification of the Petitioner.
Under these conditions, all five eyewitnesses identified the Petitioner as one of the robbers. None identified Andrews, who apparently was as prominent in the photographs as the Petitioner. These initial identifications were confirmed by all five witnesses in subsequent viewings of photographs and at trial, where each witness identified the Petitioner in person. Notwithstanding cross-examination, none of the witnesses displayed any doubt about their respective identifications of the Petitioner. Taken together, these circumstances leave little room for doubt that the identification of the Petitioner was correct, even though the identification procedure employed may have in some respects fallen short of the ideal. We hold that in the factual surroundings of this case the identification procedure used was not such as to deny the Petitioner due process of law or to call for reversal under our supervisory authority.
Throughout this case, petitioner Garrett has justifiably, and without challenge from the Government, proceeded on the assumption that the standing requirements must be satisfied. On that premise, he contends that testimony given by a defendant to meet such requirements should not be admissible against him at trial on the question of guilt or innocence.
Testimony of this kind, which links a defendant to evidence which the Government considers important enough to seize and to seek to have admitted at trial, must often be highly prejudicial to a defendant. This case again serves as an example, for Garrett’s admitted ownership of a suitcase which only a few hours after the robbery was found to contain money wrappers taken from the victimized bank was undoubtedly a strong piece of evidence against him. Without his testimony, the Government might have found it hard to prove that he was the owner of the suitcase.
It seems obvious that a defendant who knows that his testimony may be admissible against him at trial will sometimes be deterred from presenting the testimonial proof of standing necessary to assert a Fourth Amendment claim. The likelihood of inhibition is greatest when the testimony is known to be admissible regardless of the outcome of the motion to suppress. But even in jurisdictions where the admissibility of the testimony depends upon the outcome of the motion, there will be a deterrent effect in those marginal cases in which it cannot be estimated with confidence whether the motion will succeed. Since search-and-seizure claims depend heavily upon their individual facts, and since the law of search and seizure is in a state of flux, the incidence of such marginal cases cannot be said to be negligible. In such circumstances, a defendant with a substantial claim for the exclusion of evidence may conclude that the admission of the evidence, together with the Government’s proof li
nking it to him, is preferable to risking the admission of his own testimony connecting himself with the seized evidence.
Thus, in this case Garrett was obliged either to give up what he believed, with advice of counsel, to be a valid Fourth Amendment claim or, in legal effect, to waive his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. In these circumstances, we find it intolerable that one constitutional right should have to be surrendered in order to assert another. We therefore hold that when a defendant testifies in support of a motion to suppress evidence on Fourth Amendment grounds, his testimony may not thereafter be admitted against him at trial on the issue of guilt unless he makes no objection.



  • Case Brief: 1968
  • Petitioner: Simmons
  • Respondent: United States
  • Decided by: Warren Court

Citation: 390 US 377 (1968)
Argued: Jan 15, 1968
Decided: Mar 18, 1968