The New York Times reported this week that New Jersey judges have been issued instructions that they are to give to juries in cases involving eyewitness identifications. The instructions are designed to warn jurors that eyewitness identifications are not always accurate and that numerous factors can influence a witness’s memory.
Things like the race of the suspect vs. the witness, the stress level at the time of the identification, distance, lighting, sequence of photographs, how much time has elapsed, and how the officer administering the lineup acts, can all influence a witness’s decision and play a role in the accuracy of their identification.
These new rules will take effect on September 4. They come on the tail of a landmark ruling from the same court last year, a ruling that questioned the test in place for reliability of eyewitness testimony, established in 1977 by the U.S. Supreme Court. While the ruling didn’t apply to every state, it was the first of its kind and was heralded as groundbreaking for being “the most exhaustive review of decades of scientific research on eyewitness identification.”
Brandon L. Garrett, of the University of Virginia says the new instructions are “far more detailed and careful than anything that exists anywhere in the country.” He goes on to say that although the instructions aren’t perfect, “they are a remarkable road map for how you explain eyewitness memory to jurors.”
Historically, even though there is research substantiating the face that eyewitness identifications are often incorrect, juries have been easily convinced when a witness identifies a defendant.
A high percentage of people who are later exonerated for crimes have been identified by a witness during the investigation stage and at trial.
These rules seek to give New Jersey jurors a crash course in eyewitness identification and its shortcomings. Rather than accept an id as truth, the hope is that jurors will be able to weigh the different factors that go into an identification, recognizing that they are not always 100% accurate.
When you are identified by a witness, it can be difficult to overcome at trial. But it is possible. Whether you are accused of a serious assault or a robbery, you need a local defense attorney on your side when you are up against criminal charges and a potential prison sentence. Contact our offices today to discuss the details of your case and how we might be able to help.