Police Officers Properly Allowed to Testify About Victim’s Identification of Defendant Shortly After the Crime/Prior Consistent Statements Not Hearsay
In a full-fledged opinion by Judge Smith, over a dissent, the Court of Appeals determined that two police officers, as well as the victim, were properly allowed to testify about the victim’s identification of the defendant shortly after the crime, extending the rule announced by the Court of Appeals in People v Huertas (75 NY2d 487):
Velez [the victim] identified defendant at trial as one of the robbers and also testified, without objection, to a description he had given the police on the night of the crime of a black man “about 5’6, short hair, round face, thick eyebrows” and wearing a white shirt. The description fits defendant, but in the video the man alleged to be defendant is wearing a blueish-gray shirt. Velez testified that, before he saw the video, he realized that his description of the shirt was in error, and corrected it.
Two police officers also testified, over objection, that Velez had given a description on the night of the crime. The officers’ accounts of the description were brief, and consistent with Velez’s. One said that Velez had described a man “between 5’6 to 5’7 in height wearing shorts and . . . a white T-shirt.” The other said only that Velez had described “a short black male, dark skinned.” * * *
Huertas involved a … prior consistent statement: a witness’s description, given shortly after the crime, of the person who committed it. Huertas held testimony about a description to be admissible not under any exception to the hearsay rule, but because the testimony is not hearsay at all. It is admitted not for the truth or accuracy of the prior description, but as “evidence that assists the jury in evaluating the witness’s opportunity to observe at the time of the crime, and the reliability of her memory at the time of the corporeal identification” (Huertas, 75 NY2d at 493). * * *
The issue here is whether the rule of Huertas, like CPL 60.30’s hearsay exception for prior eyewitness identifications, is limited to a witness’s account of his or her own previous statement. We see nothing to justify such a limitation. A statement that is not hearsay when the declarant testifies to it does not become hearsay when someone else does so. People v Smith, 226, CtApp 12-17-13