In-Court Identifications and Narration Testimony (Part 1)

by | Dec 6, 2023 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

On August 2, 2023, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided the Middlesex County case of State v. Quintin Watson. The principal issues before the Court concerned first-time in-court identifications and video narration testimony.

Chief Justice Rabner wrote for a unanimous Court in relevant part: This appeal raises two principal issues: (1) the propriety of “first-time incourt identifications” — that is, in-court identifications that are not preceded by a successful out-of-court identification — and (2) the extent to which investigators may narrate video recordings. Defendant Quintin Watson was convicted of bank robbery based on evidence that included testimony from a teller, who identified defendant for the first time in court, and from the lead detective, who narrated a bank surveillance video for the jury. The lead detective also testified about consulting with other law enforcement agencies regarding defendant, and the propriety of that testimony under the Confrontation Clause is a third issue here.

In January 2017, an individual wearing a baseball cap and gloves robbed a bank in North Brunswick. After entering the bank, he put a note on the counter that read, “everything now”; he left with the $5,772 he received. Bank surveillance footage captured the entire 57-second robbery. In November 2017, defendant was charged in three other robberies after his former girlfriend, “Joan,” identified him in a wanted photo from one of those robberies. After the office investigating the other robberies notified the North Brunswick Police Department about defendant, he became a suspect in the North Brunswick robbery as well.

In September 2018, a detective showed the teller six photos, one at a time, and asked if he could identify the person who robbed the bank. The teller picked a photo of someone other than defendant and said at trial that he was 75-90 percent sure of the identification. At trial, the prosecutor asked the teller if he could identify the robber in court. The teller identified defendant, who was seated in between his lawyers at counsel table. The teller said he was “maybe like . . . 80 percent” sure. The prosecution did not provide advance notice of the in-court identification, and defense counsel did not object to it. During cross-examination, the teller revealed that he had met with the prosecutor prior to trial and that the prosecutor had “informed [him] that the individual who was accused of committing this robbery is in court seated at the defense table.”

The lack of objection by defense counsel makes for a higher standard for the defendant to overcome on appeal. Our caselaw presumes that not objecting was done as a matter of trial strategy. The reality is that it is usually due to a lack of preparation.