388 U.S. 293 (1967), 254, Stovall v. Denno

Docket Nº:No. 254
Citation:388 U.S. 293, 87 S.Ct. 1967, 18 L.Ed.2d 1199
Party Name:Stovall v. Denno
Case Date:June 12, 1967
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 293

388 U.S. 293 (1967)

87 S.Ct. 1967, 18 L.Ed.2d 1199




No. 254

United States Supreme Court

June 12, 1967

Argued February 16, 1967




Petitioner was convicted and sentenced to death for murdering one Dr. Behrendt. He had been arrested the day after the murder, and, without being afforded time to retain counsel, was taken by police officers, to one of whom he was handcuffed, to be viewed at the hospital by Mrs. Behrendt, who had been seriously wounded by her husband's assailant. After observing him and hearing him speak as directed by an officer, Mrs. Behrendt identified petitioner as the murderer. Mrs. Behrendt and the officers testified at petitioner's trial as to the hospital identification, and she also made an in-court identification of the petitioner. Following affirmance of his conviction by the highest state court, petitioner sought habeas corpus in the District Court, claiming that Mrs. Behrendt's identification testimony violated his Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The District Court after hearing argument on an unrelated claim, dismissed the petition. The Court of Appeals, en banc, vacated a panel decision reversing the dismissal of the petition on constitutional grounds, and affirmed the District Court.


1. The constitutional rule established in today's decisions in United States v. Wade and Gilbert v. California, ante pp. 218, 263, has application only to cases involving confrontations for identification purposes conducted in the absence of counsel after this date. Cf. Linkletter v. Walker, 381 U.S. 618; Tehan v. Shott, 382 U.S. 406; Johnson v. New Jersey, 384 U.S. 719. Pp. 296-301.

2. Though the practice of showing suspects singly for purposes of identification has been widely condemned, a violation of due process of law in the conduct of a confrontation depends on the totality of the surrounding circumstances. There was no due process denial in the confrontation here, since Mrs. Behrendt was the only person who could exonerate the suspect; she could not go to the police station for the usual lineup, and there was no way of knowing how long she would live. Pp. 301-302.

355 F.2d 731, affirmed.

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BRENNAN, J., lead opinion

MR JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

This federal habeas corpus proceeding attacks collaterally a state criminal conviction for the same alleged constitutional errors in the admission of allegedly tainted identification evidence that were before us on direct review of the convictions involved in United States v. Wade, ante, p. 218, and Gilbert v. California, ante, p. 263. This case therefore provides a vehicle for deciding the extent to which the rules announced in Wade and Gilbert -- requiring the exclusion of identification evidence which is tainted by exhibiting the accused to identifying witnesses before trial in the absence of his counsel -- are to be applied retroactively. See Linkletter v. Walker, 381 U.S. 618; Tehan v. Shott, 382 U.S. 406; Johnson v. New Jersey, 384 U.S. 719.1 A further question is whether, in any event, on the facts of the particular confrontation

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involved in this case, petitioner was denied due process of law in violation of [87 S.Ct. 1969] the Fourteenth Amendment. Cf. Davis v. North Carolina, 384 U.S. 737.

Dr. Paul Behrendt was stabbed to death in the kitchen of his home in Garden City, Long Island, about midnight August 23, 1961. Dr. Behrendt's wife, also a physician, had followed her husband to the kitchen and jumped at the assailant. He knocked her to the floor and stabbed her 11 times. The police found a shirt on the kitchen floor and keys in a pocket which they traced to petitioner. They arrested him on the afternoon of August 24. An arraignment was promptly held, but was postponed until petitioner could retain counsel.

Mrs. Behrendt was hospitalized for major surgery to save her life. The police, without affording petitioner time to retain counsel, arranged with her surgeon to permit them to bring petitioner to her hospital room about noon of August 25, the day after the surgery. Petitioner was handcuffed to one of five police officers who, with two members of the staff of the District Attorney, brought him to the hospital room. Petitioner was the only Negro in the room. Mrs. Behrendt identified him from her hospital bed after being asked by an officer whether he "was the man" and after petitioner repeated at the direction of an officer a "few words for voice identification." None of the witnesses could recall the words that were used. Mrs. Behrendt and the officers testified at the trial to her identification of the petitioner in the hospital room, and she also made an in-court identification of petitioner in the courtroom.

Petitioner was convicted, and sentenced to death. The New York Court of Appeals affirmed without opinion. 13 N.Y.2d 1094, 196 N.E.2d 65. Petitioner pro se sought federal habeas corpus in the District Court for the Southern District of New York. He claimed that, among other constitutional rights allegedly denied him

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at his trial, the admission of Mrs. Behrendt's identification testimony violated his rights under the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments because he had been compelled to submit to the hospital room confrontation without the help of counsel and under circumstances which unfairly focused the witness' attention on him as the man believed by the police to be the guilty person. The District Court dismissed the petition after hearing argument on an unrelated claim of an alleged invalid search and seizure. On appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, a panel of that court initially reversed the dismissal after reaching the issue of the admissibility of Mrs. Behrendt's identification evidence and holding it inadmissible on the ground that the hospital room identification violated petitioner's constitutional right to the assistance of counsel. The Court of Appeals thereafter heard the case en banc, vacated the panel decision, and affirmed the District Court. 355 F.2d 731. We granted certiorari, 384 U.S. 1000, and set the case for argument with Wade and Gilbert. We hold that Wade and Gilbert affect only those cases and all future cases which involve confrontations for identification purposes conducted in the absence of counsel after this date. The rulings of Wade and Gilbert are therefore inapplicable in the present case. We think also that, on the facts of this case, petitioner was not deprived of due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is, therefore, affirmed.


Our recent discussions of the retroactivity of other constitutional rules of criminal procedure make unnecessary any detailed treatment of that question here. Linkletter v. Walker, supra; Tehan v. Shott, supra; Johnson v. New Jersey, supra.

These cases establish the principle that, in criminal litigation concerning constitutional [87 S.Ct. 1970]

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claims, "the Court may, in the interest of justice, make the rule prospective . . . where the exigencies of the situation require such an application." . . .

Johnson, supra, 384 U.S. at 726-727. The criteria guiding resolution of the question implicate (a) the purpose to be served by the new standards, (b) the extent of the reliance by law enforcement authorities on the old standards, and (c) the effect on the administration of justice of a retroactive application of the new standards.

[T]he retroactivity or nonretroactivity of a rule is not automatically determined by the provision of the Constitution on which the dictate is based. Each constitutional rule of criminal procedure has its own distinct functions, its own background of precedent, and its own impact on the administration of justice, and the way in which these factors combine must inevitably vary with the dictate involved.

Johnson, supra, at 728.

Wade and Gilbert fashion exclusionary rules to deter law enforcement authorities from exhibiting an accused to witnesses before trial for identification purposes without notice to and in the absence of counsel. A conviction which rests on a mistaken identification is a gross miscarriage of justice. The Wade and Gilbert rules are aimed at minimizing that possibility by preventing the unfairness at the pretrial confrontation that experience has proved can occur and assuring meaningful examination of the identification witness' testimony at trial. Does it follow that the rules should be applied retroactively? We do not think so.

It is true that the right to the assistance of counsel has been applied retroactively at stages of the prosecution where denial of the right must almost invariably deny a fair trial, for example, at the trial itself, Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335, or at some forms of arraignment, Hamilton v. Alabama, 368 U.S. 52, or on appeal, Douglas v. California, 372 U.S. 353.

The basic purpose

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of a trial is the determination of truth, and it is self-evident that to deny a lawyer's help through the technical intricacies of a criminal trial or to deny a full opportunity to appeal a conviction because the accused is poor is to impede that purpose and to infect a criminal proceeding with the clear danger of convicting the innocent.

Tehan v. Shott, supra, at 416. We have also retroactively applied rules of criminal procedure fashioned to correct serious flaws in the factfinding process at trial. See, for example, Jackson v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368. Although the Wade and Gilbert rules also are aimed at avoiding unfairness at the trial by enhancing the reliability of the factfinding process in the area of identification...

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