A motion to suppress an identification is a common defense method of seeking a judge’s ruling that a pretrial identification is inadmissible because the process was unfair.
(For a variety of information on eyewitness IDs, including more on determining whether they are admissible, see Eyewitness Identification.)
If the process by which an identification occurred was “unnecessarily suggestive and conducive to irreparable mistaken identification,” it is inadmissible. (Neil v. Biggers, 409 U.S. 188 (1972).) But even where an identification procedure was unduly suggestive, the identification is generally admissible if, given the “totality of the circumstances,” the actual identification was reliable. (Manson v. Brathwaite, 432 U.S. 98 (1977).) (However, some states provide more protection for defendants when it comes to identifications and will automatically reject those that are the product of inherently suggestive procedures.)
The governing standard makes it difficult for defendants to knock out identifications. As a result, juries often hear evidence of pretrial identifications. But the fact that a pretrial identification comes into evidence doesn’t mean that a defendant can’t challenge it. Indeed, defendants typically make a similar argument to the jury that they made to the judge about the untrustworthiness of an identification. Even though the evidence came in, the goal is to convince the jury to question it.
(For information on the standard by which “showups” are judged, see Face-to-Face Eyewitness Identification: “Showups”.)
Judges’ rulings on motions to suppress identifications typically consist of one of the following: