Reversing Conviction, Court of Appeals Breaks New Ground on Cross-Racial ID Issue
Appellant was charged with committing two robberies. Both of the complainants were white, and both described the perpetrator as African-American. Defense counsel asked the court to give the cross-racial identification charge. At the time of the trial, that charge provided, inter alia, that the jurors "may consider whether there is a difference in race between the defendant and the witness who identified the defendant, and if so, whether that difference affected the accuracy of the witness’s identification." The court denied counsel's request.
The Appellate Division, Second Department, reduced appellant's sentence but affirmed his conviction. The Second Department held that the trial court's ruling on the cross-racial identification charge request was not error because appellant “never placed the issue in evidence during the trial.” Judge Rivera of the Court of Appeals granted leave to appeal.
After the case was reargued, the Court of Appeals reversed appellant's conviction, holding that the cross-racial identification charge must be given if a witness’s identification of the defendant is “at issue," the identification witness and the defendant “appear to be of different races,” and the charge is requested.
Leila Hull briefed and argued the case in the Second Department and the Court of Appeals, and Paul Skip Laisure reargued the case in the Court of Appeals.