Eyewitness identification is where a witness recalls the perpetrator of a crime. Witnesses base their identification on the actual physical perception of the crime. Identification is not based on hearsay or rumor.

An eyewitness is a person who has witnessed the crime or has knowledge of its enactment. The eyewitness may be a victim, a bystander, or a participant in the crime who will testify in exchange for a lesser sentence.

The most standard type of eyewitness identification is pre-trial identification. This happens before the trial has formally started. Pre-trial identification can transpire in three basic ways:

  • Police Lineups: In a police lineup, the suspect is usually in a group with other individuals who serve as “decoys.” Eyewitnesses anonymously select which individual they believe is the person responsible for the crime
  • Showups: These are like lineups, except that the suspect is by themselves without any decoys. Showups are typically used at the scene of the crime. The police ask the witness to identify a person they have apprehended shortly after the commission of the crime.
  • Photograph Identification: Police will show eyewitnesses an array of photos, one of which contains the named suspect. The police will then ask witnesses to point out which individual they think is the suspect.

Eyewitnesses can also identify a person under oath in court during direct and cross-examinations. For example, an attorney may ask the eyewitness to respond to “Is this the person who committed the crime?”

What Is Admissible Evidence?

One admissible evidence definition is that admissible evidence is any document, testimony, or tangible, physical item, e.g., a murder weapon, that can be used to establish a fact at issue in a hearing or trial in a court of law under the rules of evidence.

Evidence is normally introduced to a judge or a jury to establish a fact that is an element of a case as follows:

  • Criminal Law: In criminal law, evidence is used in two ways, either to prove a defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, or the defendant presents evidence to establish a defense to the crime charged;
  • Civil Law: In civil law, facts to establish the elements of a case must be established by a preponderance of the evidence, which is a lower standard than the one that applies in a criminal case, i.e., beyond a reasonable doubt. In certain exceptional situations in a civil lawsuit, the standard of proof is clear and convincing evidence of a fact or facts. This is a heavier, or more rigid, burden of proof than a “preponderance of the evidence” standard.

Before any evidence is allowed to be presented to a judge or jury in a civil or criminal case, it must be considered “admissible.” Whether the evidence is admissible depends on several factors that a court must examine.

Documents, testimony, and physical items that are not acceptable per the rules of evidence are excluded and referred to as “inadmissible.” They are types of evidence that cannot be shown to the judge or the jury as proof of any fact in the case.

One issue to determine early on is whether a person will have a hearing or trial in federal or state courts. In federal courts, judges analyze evidence by applying the Federal Rules of Evidence in federal courts. Each state has its own rules of evidence which apply in that state’s courts in both criminal and civil trials.

In both state and federal courts, the rules of evidence are statements of law prescribing for parties and their attorneys how they can collect, present and apply evidence in hearings and trials. Parties to court proceedings and their attorneys should be guided in gathering and using evidence by the rules of evidence that apply in the court in which they are working.

What Is the Difference Between Admissible Evidence and Inadmissible Evidence?

Admissible evidence is permitted to be shown to the judge or jury, whichever is deciding the case. The judge or jury may then consider whether the evidence is credible enough and sufficient to prove the fact to which the evidence is offered to prove. If evidence is inadmissible, it cannot be given to the judge or jury and cannot be used to establish any fact.

Sometimes the same item of evidence is admissible for one purpose but not for another. A typical example of this is hearsay evidence. Hearsay evidence is when a person testifies what they or another individual said at another time outside of court in some situation at issue. For instance, a witness to an auto accident might want to testify that the driver at fault said to them after the accident, “Gee, I’m so sorry, but I did not see that car in front of me. I was reading a text message.”

The accident victim would like to offer this witness’s testimony to establish that the other driver’s negligence caused the accident. Nevertheless, the testimony cannot be admitted for that purpose. The testimony might establish something else, but not the truth of what was said, i.e., the driver caused the accident because they were reading a text message and not watching the car in front of them. The statement is hearsay, i.e., testimony by one individual regarding what another individual said offered to prove the truth.

Testimony by a witness to the accident to the effect that the witness saw the other driver glancing at their cell phone while driving before their car crashed into the car in front of them could be admitted to establish that the other driver’s negligence caused the accident. This testimony is not hearsay, i.e., not the testimony of what one individual heard another individual say. It is testimony about what the witness glimpsed. And it would be admissible to prove the negligence of the driver who was reading and did not pay attention to the road.

Or, suppose a prosecutor wants to admit the recording of a call to a police dispatcher. The defendant is heard on the phone in the call telling the dispatcher, “Please send an ambulance right away. I may have just killed a guest here at the Bates Motel in Fairvale.” The prosecutor wants to use this recording to confirm that the defendant murdered a guest who had checked into the Bates Motel. The dispatcher has since passed away and is not obtainable to testify, but a tape recording of the call is available.

The evidence would be inadmissible for that objective because it is hearsay. It might be admissible to demonstrate why the dispatcher sent an ambulance to the Bates Motel that night, assuming that fact would need to be verified in the case. But it would not be admissible to establish that the defendant murdered a guest at the motel.

There are other reasons why evidence of this type might be admissible or inadmissible. Of course, there are exceptions to the hearsay rule discussed below, as there are to every rule of evidence. The “excited utterance” exception to the hearsay rule is one of the exceptions that may make this statement admissible to prove the defendant’s guilt.

The point is that any type of evidence, including hearsay, might be permissible for one purpose but not for another. In addition, decisions about evidence may not be at all simple. More than one regulation may indicate that a particular item is inadmissible, while exceptions or other rules may show that it is admissible. Every item of evidence must be carefully examined.

Should I Get a Lawyer for Eyewitness Identifications?

The outcome of a criminal trial often depends on eyewitness identifications. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help ensure that your constitutional rights are not violated.