A clear identification of a defendant as the perpetrator of a crime is often an issue that is essential to the State proving its case in criminal court. In fact, the outcome of many criminal cases often hinges upon eyewitness identifications. A so-called pretrial Wade hearing (United States v. Wade, 388 U.S. 218 (1967)) is usually required when an identification is crucial to the prosecution's case. See State v. Michaels, 136 N.J. 299, 319 (1994). A Wade hearing is conducted pursuant to Rule 104(a) of the New Jersey Rules of Evidence. In order to have a Wade hearing, a defendant must at least make a threshold showing that an arguable issue regarding identification exists in the case. See State v. Long, 119 N.J. 439, 487 (1990); State v. Rodriguez, 264 N.J. Super. 261 (App. Div. 1993), aff'd 135 N.J. 3 (1994).
At a Wade hearing, the defendant has the initial burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the pretrial identification procedures were so suggestive as to result in a substantial likelihood of misidentification. State v. Hurd, 86 N.J. 525, 548 (1981); State v. Santoro, 229 N.J. Super. 501, 504 (App. Div. 1990). If the defendant meets his/her burden, the State is required to prove byclear and convincing evidence that the identification is free from the taint of the suggestive identification procedure that was utilized. See State v. Madison, 109 N.J. 223, 245 (1988); State v. Peterkin, 226 N.J. Super. 25, 45 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 114 N.J. 295 (1988). If the trial judge finds that the constitutional safeguards have been met, the issue of the weight to be given the identification is then for the jury to decide. State v. Farrow, 61 N.J. 434, 451 (1972), cert. denied, 410 U.S. 937 (1973); State v. Lutz, 165 N.J. Super. 278, 289 (App. Div. 1979). A trial judge's rulings on the issue of the propriety of identification procedures will be sustained on an appeal as long as they reasonably could have been reached on sufficient credible evidence present in the record. State v. Scott, 236 N.J. Super. 264, 267 (App. Div. 1989).
The above discussion regarding Wade hearings is just some basic information regarding how a defendant would challenge his/her identification as the perpetrator of crime. Certainly, this information is just basic and does not address every aspect of Wade hearings or of raising an identification defense. Every case is different and the appropriate defenses presented can always vary greatly. As always, the attorneys at the Nugent law Offices are always happy to discuss any aspect of a criminal case. Please feel free to contact us by telephone at any time.
-Justin Brake, Esquire / June 2013