“Like or Unlike” – Facebook, better than a police line-up?

Originally produced on Lex Loci

“Like or Unlike” – Facebook, better than a police line-up?

In R v Mohamed, 2014 ABCA 398, photographs obtained from Facebook were shown to an eye witness in attempts to identify the shooter in a crime. At the time of the crime, the eye witness did not know the accused. However, after providing a description to a friend, the witness was presented with photographs obtained from Facebook showing a group of men fitting a similar description.  The eye witness identified the accused as being present in two of those photographs.

The trial judge awarded this method of identification significant weight, as it “demonstrate[d] the consciously serious and spontaneous nature of the identification from a group of men, all similar in description with similar features”. Further, the trial judge observed this process had similar characteristics to that of a police lineup.

The Court of Appeal ruled that although the process was similar to a police lineup, it arose spontaneously and was more akin to a real life identification. It compared the situation to that where an eye witness did not know the accused at the time of the crime, but later identifies the accused on the street after having their attention drawn to him.

While the friends who provided the photographs did not recall the same amount of descriptive detail provided by the eye witness relating to the individual’s appearance, the substance of their descriptions was largely consistent with the eye witness’ description and original recollection provided to the police. The Court stated that absolute uniformity and consistency in every detail provided by witnesses is highly unlikely and unnecessary.

It is the role of the trial judge to assess and determine the degree of reliability of presented evidence. The description provided by the eye witness was consistent with the appearance of the accused in the photo. As such, there was no palpable or overriding error by the trial judge in accepting the Facebook identification as evidence.

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