United States v. Ash Case Brief

Why is the case important?

A number of informants were asked to identify a number of suspects in connection with a bank robbery. The respondent, Ash (the “respondent”), challenged the identification because counsel was not present at what was arguably a critical stage of the prosecution.

Facts of the case

Charles J. Ash Jr. was indicted for robbing the American Trust & Security Company in Washington, D.C. Before his trial, almost three years after the robbery, an FBI agent and a prosecutor showed five color mug shot photographs to potential witnesses to make sure they would be able to make an in court identification of Ash. Ash’s counsel was not present for this process. Some of these witnesses then made in court identifications of Ash. Ash was convicted. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed, holding that Ash’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel was violated because his attorney was not given the opportunity to be present for the photo identifications before trial. The court of appeals opinion expressed doubt that the in court identifications could have happened without the prior photo identifications.


Whether the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution grants an accused the right to have counsel present at a post indictment photographic identification procedure?


The Sixth Amendment of the Constitution does not grant an accused the right to counsel during a post indictment photographic identification procedure because the accused himself is not entitled to be present, rendering it impossible that the accused will be confused or overpowered by the proceedings.


The  Supreme Court of the United States reversed the appellate court’s judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. The Court applied a historical interpretation of the right to counsel and explained that expansion of the guarantee was warranted only when new contexts appeared presenting the same dangers that gave birth to the right. The Court held that even if it were willing to view the counsel guarantee in broad terms as a generalized protection of the adversary process, it would be unwilling to go so far as to extend the right to a portion of the Government’s trial-preparation interviews with witnesses. The Court held that U.S. Const. amend. VI did not grant the right to counsel at photographic displays conducted by the government for the purpose of allowing a witness to attempt an identification of the offender.

  • Case Brief: 1973
  • Petitioner: United States
  • Respondent: Charles J. Ash Jr.
  • Decided by: Burger Court

Citation: 413 US 300 (1973)
Argued: Jan 10, 1973
Decided: Jun 21, 1973