SAN FRANCISCO — A criminal conviction can be based solely on a witness' out-of-court identification of the defendant, the state Supreme Court ruled Tuesday, overturning a 35-year-old decision.
The court, then with a more liberal majority, ruled unanimously in 1960 that a pretrial identification of the defendant was not enough for a conviction, unless the defendant also was identified during the trial or was connected to the crime by other evidence.
But the justices said Tuesday, in another unanimous ruling, that an out-of-court identification should be evaluated like any other evidence.
If sufficiently reliable--from a witness who saw the events, and whose account was believed by the jury after being challenged by the defense--it can support a conviction, the court said.
An out-of-court identification may be accurate even though the witness later repudiates it, said the opinion by Justice Joyce Kennard. She said the earlier statement may be more reliable, and the later recantation may be the product of fear or a loss of memory.