Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Perry v. New Hampshire looks at eyewitness testimony

This just in from USA Today: "Supreme Court justices on Wednesday challenged the notion that testimony from arguably unreliable eyewitnesses should be specially scrutinized at trial because of how it can lead to wrongful convictions.

"Why is unreliable eyewitness identification any different from unreliable anything else" introduced at trial, Justice Antonin Scalia asked during arguments in a New Hampshire case. "Eyewitness identification evidence is unique," responded lawyer Richard Guerriero. He represents a man whose theft conviction was based partly on the report of a woman who said she watched him out her apartment window. Guerriero called mistaken IDs "the leading cause of miscarriages of justice."

Justice Elena Kagan said jailhouse informants could also create an especially "unreliable" category. "I understand you have very good empirical evidence which should lead us all to wonder about the reliability of eyewitness testimony," she said. "I'm just suggesting that eyewitness testimony is not the only kind of testimony which people can do studies on and find that it's more unreliable than you think."

Longstanding national concerns about the trustworthiness of eyewitness accounts formed the backdrop of Wednesday's dispute. The American Psychological Association, which has entered the case on the defendant's side, says, "Controlled experiments as well as studies of actual identifications have consistently found that the rate of incorrect identifications is approximately 33 percent."

Supreme Court cases dating to the 1960s have similarly stressed that eyewitness identifications are particularly untrustworthy and can lead to tainted jury verdicts and injustice. The question Wednesday is what safeguards for due process of law and fairness are necessary.

New Hampshire Attorney General Michael Delaney, urging the court to uphold the theft conviction, said identification evidence should be specially reviewed by a judge only when police obtained the ID through an unnecessarily suggestive police method — for example, in photos shown to a witness. The federal government and 29 states are siding with New Hampshire, urging the high court to leave the question of eyewitness reliability generally to a jury ..."

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Enjoy.

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