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155245 - People v Elisah Kyle Thomas

The People of the State of Michigan,
Jason W. Williams
(Appeal from Ct of Appeals)
(Wayne – Heise, C.)
Elisah Kyle Thomas,
Kathy H. Murphy


At issue: For identification purposes, are the police permitted to show a complainant a single photo of a suspect, or does such a procedure create a substantial likelihood of misidentification? If the procedure is too suggestive, should the complainant nevertheless be permitted to identify the defendant during court proceedings when there is an independent basis for the identification? 
Summary: One evening, as the complainant walked to a nearby restaurant, he passed a man he did not know.  About 15 minutes later, after leaving the restaurant, the complainant was approached by the man he had passed by earlier.  The man pointed a gun at the complainant and demanded that he empty his pockets.  The complainant handed over $10 but the robber wanted more.  The complainant threw a soda can at the robber and ran. The robber followed, firing multiple shots, one of which struck the complainant in his leg. The complainant went to a nearby church and the pastor called 9-1-1. 
In the ambulance, the complainant gave an officer a description of the robber. Another officer canvassed the area and saw the defendant Elisah Kyle Thomas, who matched the description. The officer stopped the defendant but let him go after learning that he had no outstanding warrants. Before letting the defendant go, however, the officer took a photograph of him with her cell phone.  The officer immediately went to the hospital and asked the complainant to describe the robber.  After the complainant gave a description, the officer showed him the photo and asked “was this him?”  The complainant started to cry and said “that’s him.” 
The defendant was arrested and charged with armed robbery, assault with intent to murder, assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder, carrying a concealed weapon, carrying a weapon with unlawful intent, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. The defendant filed a motion to exclude admission of the complainant’s identification of him as the robber, arguing that the single photo procedure was too suggestive, creating a substantial likelihood of misidentification.  The defendant also moved to exclude admission of the complainant’s in-court identification of him as being without any independent basis.  Following a hearing at which the complainant and investigating officers testified, the circuit court granted the defendant’s motions and dismissed the charges.  The Wayne County Prosecutor appealed that ruling to a panel of three Court of Appeals judges.  Two judges held that the circuit court had erred in dismissing the charges, and sent the case back to the circuit court for further proceedings.  One judge dissented. 
The defendant now appeals to the Michigan Supreme Court, which has ordered oral argument to address whether the single photographic identification method used in this case was so suggestive that it created a substantial likelihood of misidentification, and, if so, whether the complainant’s in-court identification was admissible because it had an independent basis.