Robinson v. People
In Robinson v. People, 927 P.2d 381 (Colo. 1996), the robbery of a convenience store was recorded by the store's surveillance camera. A police officer who viewed the video recording recognized Robinson as the perpetrator because he had had a previous encounter with him.
At Robinson's trial, the jury was shown the videotape and still photographs made from the videotape. The police officer testified, identifying Robinson as the person shown committing the robbery in the videotape and the photographs made from the videotape.
On appeal, Robinson argued that the police officer's "lay opinion testimony was not helpful to the jury because the detective was in no better position than the jury to determine whether the robber in the videotape was Robinson." Id.
After surveying cases from other jurisdictions pertaining to the admission of lay opinion testimony, the court observed that a "significant majority" of the courts that had addressed the issue had determined that "a lay witness may testify regarding the identity of a person depicted in a surveillance photograph if there is some basis for concluding that the witness is more likely to correctly identify the defendant from the photograph than the jury." Id.
The court went on to explain, in part:
All of the courts among the majority agree that a lay witness who has substantial familiarity with the defendant, such as a family member or a person who has had numerous contacts with the defendant, may properly testify as to the identity of the defendant in a surveillance photograph. Moreover, several jurisdictions agree that whether a lay witness' prior contacts with the defendant are extensive enough to permit a proper identification is a matter of weight for the jury, not admissibility. Id. at 383.
The Colorado court adopted the majority rule. It explained that "the intimacy level of the witness' familiarity with the defendant goes to the weight to be given the witness' testimony, not the admissibility of such testimony." Id. at 384.
It rejected the argument that a change in the defendant's appearance between the time of the photograph and the time of trial was necessary for the admission of the lay opinion identification testimony, stating that, "although the witness must be in a better position than the jurors to determine whether the image captured by the camera is indeed that of the defendant, this requires neither the witness to be 'intimately familiar' with the defendant nor the defendant to have changed his appearance." Id.