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WATKINS V. SOWDERS, 449 U. S. 341 (1981)

U.S. Supreme Court

Watkins v. Sowders, 449 U.S. 341 (1980)

Watkins v. Sowders

No. 79-5949

Argued November 10, 1980

Decided January 13, 1981*

449 U.S. 341


Held: A state criminal court is not required by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to conduct a hearing out of the jury's presence whenever a defendant contends that a witness' identification of him was arrived at improperly. Pp. 449 U. S. 345-349.

(a) Where identification evidence is at issue, no such special considerations as exist where the issue of the voluntariness of a confession is presented -- an involuntary confession being inadmissible both because it is likely to be unreliable and because of society's aversion to forced confessions, even if true, Jackson v. Denno, 378 U. S. 368 -- justify a departure from the presumption that juries will follow the trial court's instructions. It is the reliability of identification evidence that primarily determines its admissibility, and the proper evaluation of evidence under the trial judge's instructions is the very task our system must assume juries can perform. Pp. 449 U. S. 346-348.

(b) There is no merit to the contention that vigorous and full cross-examination in the presence of the jury of witnesses as to the possible improprieties of pretrial identifications is inconsistent with due process of law. While a "predicament" is always presented when a lawyer decides on cross-examination to ask a question that may produce an answer unfavorable to his client, the Due Process Clause does not inevitably require the abandonment of the time-honored process of cross-examination as the device best suited to determine the trustworthiness of testimonial evidence. Pp. 449 U. S. 348-349.

(c) While a judicial determination outside the jury's presence as to the admissibility of identification evidence may often be advisable and, in some circumstances, not presented in these cases, may be constitutionally necessary, it does not follow that the Constitution requires a per se rule compelling such a procedure in every case. P. 449 U. S. 349.

608 F.2d 247, affirmed.

STEWART, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and STEVENS, JJ., joined.

Page 449 U. S. 342

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