United States v. Wade Case Brief

Why is the case important?

Two men were indicted for bank robbery and appointed counsel to defend them. They were brought before the employees to participate in a line up identification procedure without the benefit of the presence of counsel, after indictment, but prior to trial.

Facts of the case

Billy Joe Wade was arrested and indicted for robbing a federally-insured bank. Without giving notice to Wade’s counsel, an FBI officer set up a lineup for two bank employees including Wade and several other prisoners. The officer had each prisoner put strips of tape on their face and say, “Put the money in the bag,” like the robbers did. The employees identified Wade as the robber. At trial, the employees identified him again. Wade’s counsel moved to strike the identifications because the lineup violated Wade’s Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and his Sixth Amendment right to counsel. The trial court denied the motion, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed, holding that the lineup without counsel violated the Sixth Amendment.

Question

Whether courtroom identifications of an accused at trial are to be excluded from evidence because the accused was exhibited to the witnesses before trial at a post indictment lineup conducted for identification purposes, without notice to, and in the absence of, the accused’s appointed counsel?

Answer

Yes. The court must analyze whether potential substantial prejudice to defendant’s rights inheres in the particular confrontation and the ability of counsel to help avoid that prejudice. The in court identification must be found to have independent origin, free of the primary taint of the improperly conducted lineup, in order to be admitted.

Conclusion

The Supreme Court of the United States remanded the action to the court of appeals to enter a new judgment vacating respondent’s conviction, until a hearing could determine whether the in-court identifications had independent origins. The post-indictment lineup was a critical stage of the proceedings, so Wade was entitled to have his attorney present. Based on the record, the Court could not determine whether the courtroom identifications should be excluded. Evidence had to be presented as to whether the in-court identifications were based on personal observations or the lineup.

  • Case Brief: 1967
  • Petitioner: United States
  • Respondent: Billy Joe Wade
  • Decided by: Case pending

Citation: 388 US 218 (1967)
Argued: Feb 16, 1967
Decided: Jun 12, 1967
Granted Oct 10, 1966