People v. Sammons

Decision Date16 March 2020
Docket NumberNo. 156189,156189
Citation949 N.W.2d 36,505 Mich. 31
Parties PEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Travis Travon SAMMONS, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtMichigan Supreme Court

Cavanagh, J. Defendant, Travis T. Sammons, was convicted by a jury of conspiracy to commit open murder following a trial in which the jury was told that a witness identified defendant as the shooter during a "showup"1 identification conducted by the police following the shooting. Defendant has appealed, arguing that the showup identification violated his constitutional right to due process, that the evidence of the showup should have been suppressed, and that he is entitled to a new trial. We agree. The questions necessary to resolve this appeal include: whether the identification procedure conducted by police was suggestive, whether any suggestiveness was necessary, whether the witness's identification was nonetheless reliable, and whether any error was harmless. We hold that the showup identification procedure was suggestive because it indicated to the witness that police suspected defendant; the suggestiveness was unnecessary because there was no reason, except perhaps police convenience, to use a suggestive procedure; and the showup was not reliable under Neil v. Biggers , 409 U.S. 188, 201, 93 S. Ct. 375, 34 L. Ed. 2d 401 (1972). Finally, the error was not harmless because the prosecution's case was significantly less persuasive without the showup. Accordingly, we reverse the Court of Appeals judgment, suppress any evidence from the showup, and remand to the Saginaw Circuit Court for a new trial. In light of this resolution, we decline to address defendant's remaining issues.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Humberto Casas was shot on the street in Saginaw on June 21, 2015, at approximately 1:00 p.m. Sixteen-year-old DyJuan Jones witnessed the shooting, as did Rosei Watkins. Jones was riding in the backseat of a car being driven by his mother when he heard the shots, and Watkins was driving with her grandson in her own car. Jones saw a light gray Jeep, its driver, and another man who was wielding a gun.

Jones did not note the model of the Jeep and "wasn't paying attention" to the gunman. Jones described both men as black and wearing white shirts. Jones described the driver as weighing about 320 pounds with a long beard, and the gunman as being bald and wearing black pants. Watkins, on the other hand, thought the driver was of average build. Jones saw the gunman shoot a Hispanic man—Casas. The gunman fired three shots, and then paused as his gun seemed to jam. He then fired more shots. Jones did not see the gunman get into the Jeep, but he saw the Jeep leave going 60 to 70 miles per hour. Jones told the police that the Jeep's license plate number contained either "CE" or "GE." Jones and his mother, a nurse, initially left but then returned to the scene for her to render aid. Casas died from his injuries.

About 10 to 20 minutes later, the police pulled over defendant Travis Sammons and Dominque Ramsey in a silver Jeep Commander that had the license plate number DFQ 9593. Both men wore white shirts. Ramsey weighed about 150 pounds at the time, and had facial hair that one police officer characterized as "short stubble." Although defendant had a short hairstyle, he was not bald. The officer ordered Ramsey out of the Jeep, searched him, handcuffed him, and put him into the back of the patrol car. The officer then ordered defendant out of the Jeep and searched him. During the search, the officer noticed that defendant's hands were sweaty, which the officer found "pretty odd." With Ramsey's permission, the officer searched the Jeep. Nothing of interest was found in the searches of the men or the Jeep. Both men were taken to the Saginaw Police Department, where they were detained.

A photo of the Jeep was taken and shown to Watkins, who identified it as the Jeep from the shooting.

Jones and his mother went to the police station early that evening. Michigan State Police Detective Sergeant David Rivard met them and organized a showup identification of defendant and Ramsey. At the preliminary examination, Detective Sergeant Rivard explained, "it's common that what we can do is call a show up, is to show the possible suspects to—excuse me—show the possible witnesses’ [sic] the possible suspects to see if in fact we are doing our investigation in the right direction." He further explained that the showup was conducted because suspects had been identified relatively quickly.

The station has three interview rooms, and the detective sergeant put defendant in one interview room and Ramsey in another. The men were alone in their respective rooms, wore their street clothes, and were unrestrained. The detective sergeant took Jones to the rooms for the purpose of making an identification. The detective sergeant testified there was nothing out of the ordinary about conducting a showup this way. Jones and the detective sergeant would later disagree about what happened next.

Jones would say that he could identify neither man as having been involved in the shooting, while the detective sergeant would say that Jones identified defendant as the shooter but did not identify Ramsey. No one witnessed the conversation between Jones and the detective sergeant, and the conversation was not recorded in any way. Jones did not sign any kind of statement or report indicating that he had made an identification.

Later, the police collected videos from nine security cameras near the crime scene, each showing a Jeep Commander. The police then edited the security videos together with the dashboard camera view of the traffic stop into one video compilation. One clip showed a Jeep Commander arriving near the crime scene. Another clip showed a Jeep Commander stopping at a house for several minutes, at least one person getting out of the Jeep and going into the house, then at least one person getting back into the Jeep, and it leaving. Each clip in the compilation showed a Jeep Commander, but none of the clips showed the shooting or the license plates of the vehicles they depicted.

Defendant and Ramsey were both charged with open murder, MCL 750.316 ; conspiracy to commit murder, MCL 750.157a ; being a felon in possession of a firearm, MCL 750.224f ; and having a firearm during the commission of a felony, MCL 750.227b(1). Jones was repeatedly questioned about making an identification at the preliminary examination, and every time he denied making an identification. Specifically, Jones said, "I seen the gun, I can't identify the person who was really." Defendant objected to Detective Sergeant Rivard's testimony about the showup identification and filed a motion to suppress. The circuit court issued a written opinion that implicitly acknowledged that the showup was unnecessarily suggestive, but the court nonetheless concluded that the identification was reliable:

[T]he identification occurred within hours of the homicide, while the details of the crime were still fresh in the witness’ mind. Rivard explained that the show-up procedure was used as an investigative tool to determine if their investigation was headed in the right direction. Although Defendants were singled out because they were presented alone, there is no evidence that Jones was pressured to identify either man nor was he told that the police had arrested the suspects. The fact that Jones identified Sammons as the gunman, but did not identify Ramsey, indicates that he was relying on his memory of the crime and was not influenced by the suggestiveness of the procedure. Based on the totality of the circumstances, the Court finds that the out-of-court identification was reliable and did not violate due process.

The circuit court thus denied the motion to suppress.

At trial, the prosecution offered the video compilation, as well as the testimony of Jones and Watkins. Jones acknowledged that he had taken part in the showup procedure, but he once again denied having made any identification. Detective Sergeant Rivard testified that Jones had identified defendant at the showup. Watkins testified that she saw the offenders flee in a "[g]ray, silver Jeep, whatever you call those things." She specifically denied being able to estimate the age of the vehicle she saw: "I don't know the difference, new, old. I know it looked like a Jeep." She also identified a photo of the Jeep that Ramsey and defendant were stopped in as the Jeep from the scene. However, she did not identify any distinguishing features other than the color and make. She said only, "It was a box." A jury found both men guilty of the conspiracy count and acquitted them on the remaining counts.

Both men filed motions for a directed verdict or a new trial. The circuit court denied defendant's motion but granted Ramsey's, ruling that there was insufficient evidence to sustain his conviction. The Court of Appeals affirmed defendant's conviction, and he sought leave to appeal here. We ordered oral argument on the application, directing the parties to file supplemental briefs addressing whether the showup was impermissibly suggestive; if so, whether the identification was nonetheless reliable; and whether, if improperly admitted, any error was harmless. People v. Sammons , 503 Mich. 910, 910, 919 N.W.2d 400 (2018).

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

We review a trial court's findings of fact in a suppression hearing for clear error. People v. Hammerlund , 504 Mich. 442, 450, 939 N.W.2d 129 (2019). The application of law to those facts is a constitutional matter that this Court reviews de novo. People v. Smith , 498 Mich. 466, 475, 870 N.W.2d 299 (2015).

III. ANALYSIS

Due process protects criminal defendants against "the introduction of evidence of, or tainted by, unreliable pretrial identifications obtained through unnecessarily suggestive procedures." Moore v. Illinois , 434 U.S. 220, 227, 98 S. Ct. 458, 54 L. Ed. 2d 424...

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  • People v. Posey
    • United States
    • Michigan Supreme Court
    • July 31, 2023
    ...which a suspect is shown singly to a witness-is a highly suggestive procedure that creates a strong likelihood of misidentification. Sammons, 505 Mich. at 41; id at 41-47. Such a procedure clearly signals to witness that this is the person the police suspect of having committed the crime, m......
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    ... ... " ... People v Leffew , 508 Mich. 625, 656; 975 N.W.2d 896 ... (2022). Because the prosecution has not shown that this ... preserved constitutional error was harmless beyond a ... reasonable doubt, we reverse. People v Sammons , 505 ... Mich. 31, 56; 949 N.W.2d 36 (2020) ...          III ... CONCLUSION ...          A ... defendant charged with second-degree murder under a ... depraved-heart theory has a right to raise the affirmative ... defense of duress. The ... ...
  • People v. Posey
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan — District of US
    • October 22, 2020
    ...of, or tainted by, unreliable pretrial identifications obtained through unnecessarily suggestive procedures." People v. Sammons , 505 Mich. 31, 41, 949 N.W.2d 36 (2020) (quotation marks and citation omitted).4 We note that Posey does not make any argument that Byrd's viewing of the broadcas......
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1 books & journal articles
  • Eyewitness identification
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Suppressing Criminal Evidence Other evidence subject to suppression
    • April 1, 2022
    ...Supreme Court suppressed a show-up identification when the suspect was in custody and a lineup could have been used. People v. Sammons , 949 N.W.2d 36 (2020). The court found that using a suggestive procedure like a show-up was unnecessary for anything other than police convenience, and the......

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