Illinois appeals court frowns at lineup with one suspect matching description of suspect

Appellate court finds lineup was too suggestive if only one suspect had dreadlocks, a face tattoo, and wore dark hoodie, string pants and white shoes -- which matched the description of the suspect.

A divided Illinois appellate court panel on Wednesday ordered a Cook County judge to reconsider a 2012 robbery conviction that, the majority ruled, may have resulted from a lineup that suggested to the victims which person to identify.

Clarence Clifton had been convicted at a non-jury trial in 2014 and sentenced to 35 years in prison by Circuit Judge Anna Hellen Demacopoulus, based largely on the identifications of the three victims robbed at gunpoint in a Chicago alley. The majority ruled that Demacopolous was wrong to endorse the lineup, and sent the case back to her for a hearing on whether the victims’s identification of Clifton was reliable even without the lineup.

Clifton had been arrested the day after the robbery by Chicago police officers who tracked the location of a cell phone taken in the robbery and then brought Clifton back for a lineup by each of the suspects.

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Clifton, according to the court record, was the only suspect in the lineup who matched the collective description of the robber: A facial tattoo, dreadlocks, wearing a dark hoodie, jogging pants and white shoes.

That combination of factors, states the majority opinion authored by Appellate Judge Michael B. Hyman, made the lineup “unduly suggestive,” explaining: “Clifton was described, and later presented, as the only participant in the lineup with three particular articles of clothing, a unique hairstyle, and a facial feature matching the description of the offender.”

The opinion, joined by Appellate Judge Aurelia Pucinski, states that if 100 people who knew the description of the suspect were asked “to view a lineup and choose which participant was not like the others, we find it highly probable that they would pick Clifton.”

In dissent, Appellate Judge Terrence J. Lavin contended that “far from being suggestive, this lineup is a paragon of propriety that could only have been surpassed by a shopping trip to Target in order to dress defendant so he wasn’t wearing the clothes he had on when he was arrested.”

He added that Clifton had been arrested as a result of a “wardrobe faux pas,” wearing when police arrested him the next day clothing that matched what the robber had been wearing. “One could call that situation unlucky for the defendant or serendipitous for the prosecution, but it clearly is not a basis for retrial.”

In contrast, the majority contended that “the necessary fixes were relatively easy”: Adding hats and removing the shoes of each of the men in the lineup as well as tucking in Clifton’s hood. The majority noted that the Chicago police have since operated under a directive that they take such steps to eliminate the risk of wrongful eyewitness identifications.