The Massachusetts Appeals Court today upheld the conviction of a Peabody man who fled the scene after a motorcyclist slammed into his car on a Lynn street in July of 2013. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. McEvoy.
The victim was riding his motorcycle when a green sedan unexpectedly pulled in front of him. The victim tried to drive around the sedan but instead hit the rear driver’s side and was thrown over the car. After the victim stood up, the driver of the sedan had driven away. The victim made eye contact with the driver of the sedan for about a second prior to the accident and was able to describe his shirt and his tattoos. Lynn police officers responded to the accident scene and found the sedan’s bumper, with the license plate attached, at the intersection. The car was found a couple of hours later less than a mile from where the accident had occurred. The defendant was the registered owner of the car, but his driver’s license had been suspended by the Registry of Motor Vehicles.
Two days after the accident, the defendant reported to the Lynn Police Department that his car had been stolen, but six days after that a police officer found the sedan in the defendant’s Peabody driveway. The car had damage to the rear quarter panel on the driver’s side, but no damage consistent with having been stolen. A police officer presented the victim with a photo array containing the defendant’s picture in an effort to allow the victim to identify the defendant as the driver. The victim was able to identify the defendant in the photo array and identified him again at the trial. A jury convicted the defendant of driving with a suspended license and leaving the scene of an accident causing personal injury and property damage. He appealed and the Appeals Court affirmed his convictions.
Prior to trial, the defendant had filed a motion to suppress the victim’s identification of him in the photo array. A district court judge denied the motion and the defendant argued on appeal that the denial of his motion constituted error. The Appeals Court disagreed. While Massachusetts appellate courts (along with many other courts across the nation) are coming to the realization that eyewitness identifications are often unreliable, defendants still face an uphill battle in convincing judges to suppress identifications based on photo arrays. In this case, the defendant argued the identification procedure was tainted in various ways. The defendant pointed out that the officer who administrated the photo array knew the identity of the defendant, which violated the “double-blind procedure” that has been endorsed by the Supreme Judicial Court. Also, the officer presented the photographs simultaneously rather than sequentially, which is inconsistent with the Lynn Police Department’s policy regarding photo arrays. The Court ruled that each of these arguments went to the weight of the evidence, rather than its admissibility. The defendant also argued the trial judge had not sufficiently instructed the jury about the factors to consider in determining whether to rely upon the victim’s identification. However, the Appeals Court pointed out that the trial judge had told the jury to consider, among other factors, how long the victim had looked at the driver, the distance between the two men, and the degree of attention the victim had been paying. The instructions, according to the Appeals Court, properly advised the jurors how to evaluate the reliability of the victim’s identification.