STATE v. STANLEY WILLIAMS, SC 19250
Judicial District of Waterbury
Criminal; Eyewitness Identification; Whether Appellate Court Properly Upheld Ruling Precluding Expert Testimony on Risk of Eyewitness Misidentification Where Witness Claimed Familiarity with Defendant. The defendant was convicted of robbery and unlawful restraint in connection with two separate incidents in which an individual robbed a store while threating a store worker with a knife. On appeal, the defendant claimed that the trial court improperly precluded him from presenting expert testimony from Steven Penrod, a psychologist, regarding the factors that affect the reliability of eyewitness identifications. The defendant sought to introduce that evidence to challenge the identification of him as the robber by one of the store workers. The defendant contended that Penrod would have testified that the reliability of the eyewitness’ identification could have been adversely affected by, among other factors, stress, the presence of a weapon, the difficulties involved in cross-racial identifications and the relatively short duration of the event. The Appellate Court (146 Conn. App. 114) rejected the defendant’s claim and affirmed the convictions. The court observed that the defendant’s claim was controlled by State v. Guilbert, 306 Conn. 218 (2012). In Guilbert, the Supreme Court concluded that the reliability of eyewitness identifications frequently is not a matter within the knowledge of an average juror and therefore that expert testimony about factors affecting the reliability of eyewitness identifications is admissible if the trial court determines that the expert is qualified and that the proffered testimony is relevant and will assist the jury. The Supreme Court noted that identification of a person who is “well-known” to the eyewitness generally does not give rise to the same risk of misidentification as does the identification of a person who is not well-known to the eyewitness. Here, the Appellate Court observed that the eyewitness testified that, while she did not know the defendant’s name, she recognized him as a regular customer and expressly claimed familiarity with him on the basis of those encounters. The court ruled that, under such circumstances, the risk of misidentification by the eyewitness was small and therefore that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in precluding Penrod’s testimony. In this appeal, the Supreme Court will determine whether the Appellate Court properly concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by precluding testimony from the defendant’s expert on eyewitness identification. The defendant claims that he was not “well-known” to the eyewitness and that she was not sufficiently familiar with him to negate the risk of misidentification.