Supreme Court decided a precedent setting case in 1972. This case involved the conviction of a man accused of rape as a result of his identification by the victim and little else. The identification procedure was flawed even viewed through the scope of understanding available at that time. The identification occurred more than seven months after the crime. The procedure involved a "showup" (where only the suspect is shown to the witness) as opposed to a lineup (where a suspect or suspects are shown to the witness along with non-suspects). Furthermore, the show-up involved the suspect being walked past the witness by two detectives3. In the language of the U.S. Supreme Court the identification procedure was "suggestive"4. .
The case was just the most recent, at that time, to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court involving an evaluation of the admissibility of an eyewitness identification. The Court had expressed grave concerns over the validity of eyewitness identification evidence in several cases just a few years earlier. In two cases, U.S. v. Wade5 and Gilbert v. State of California6, the Court created protections to address the dangers of such testimony7. In a third case heard the same day, Stovall v. Denno, the Court said that suggestiveness that might lead to a misidentification in and of itself did not necessitate the exclusion of the identification evidence. .
In the first of the two cases, Stovall v. Denno8, the Court held that a suggestive identification can still be admissible if it was necessary due to exigent circumstances9. In this case, the emergency was created by the fact that the identifying witness had sustained stab wounds as a result of the crime and was not expected to live10. The identification took the form of a showup in the victim's hospital room the day after the surgery11. The Court reasoned that the show-up that was conducted was necessary given the urgency of obtaining the witness' identification of the suspect12.