Statement of Prior Identification

According to D.C. Code § 14-102(b)(3), a statement is not hearsay “if the declarant testifies at trial and is subject to cross-examination concerning the statement and the statement is . . . an identification of a person made after perceiving the person.”  The exception also permits introduction of prior descriptions.  Morris v. United States, 389 A.2d 1346 (D.C. 1978).  A statement introduced under this exception to the hearsay rule is considered “substantive evidence.”  That is, it can be admitted for the truth of the matter asserted. 

The justification for this hearsay exception is the belief that the “earlier identification has greater probative value than an identification made in the courtroom after the suggestion of others and the circumstances of the trial may have intervened to create a fancied recognition in the witness’ mind.”  Gilbert v. California, 388 U.S. 263, 272-73 n.3 (1967).  See also Edelen v. United States, 627 A.2d 968, 972-73 (D.C. 1993);(Larry) Brown v. United States, 840 A.2d 82, 88 (D.C. 2004).  Its purpose is not to serve as a pretext for opening the door to otherwise inadmissible information. 

In Brown, for example, the D.C. Court of Appeals held that the exception does not extend to “detailed accounts of the actual crime; the declarant’s description of the offense itself is admissible only to the extent necessary to make the identification understandable to the jury.”  840 A.2d at 89.  The Court specifically warned against the introduction of “any unnecessary details.” Id.  In Warren v. United States, 436 A.2d 821, 837 (D.C. 1981), the Court held that prior description testimony is admissible only to the extent to which it consisted “solely of descriptions or identifications of the complaining witness’ assailants.”  Finally, in Sparks v., United States, 755 A.2d 394, 401 (D.C. 2000), the court affirmed the admission of prior inconsistent identification statements only after the trial court, carefully limiting the government’s impeachment questions to confirming the identity of the assailants, did not allow questions about the circumstances of the assault. 

In short, the only justification for allowing descriptive and other information other than the identification itself to come into evidence should be to allow the proponent of the evidence in question to confirm the identity of the person or to use the identifying information to distinguish among defendants in a multi-defendant case (e.g., “the defendant who hit me was wearing a blue shirt and the defendant who kicked me was bald”).  A more expansive interpretation would virtually eviscerate the prohibition against hearsay.