Defendants, at least in New Jersey, will be less likely to be convicted based on faulty eye-witness testimony, thanks to a sweeping new set of rules handed down by the New Jersey Supreme Court. The decision is New Jersey v. Henderson and can be found by clicking this link. The decision of the New Jersey Supreme Court is a landmark decision that hopefully will be followed by other state and federal courts. The success in this case of the defendant in this case was based on large part on the work of the Innocence Project in bringing the problems with eye witness identification to the attention of the Court.
Massachusetts criminal defense lawyers understand eyewitness testimony can sometimes be difficult to overcome at trial. Often believed by juries, it remains among the most unreliable forms of testimony the state can produce in securing a conviction. Trial defense in Massachusetts requires aggressively challenging the recollections and other evidence presented by witnesses to a crime.
The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled a judge must hold a special hearing on the issues whenever the defense presents evidence that a witness may have been influenced by police or by other means. Other factors could include lighting, the passage of time between the crime and recollection, or whether the victim was under stress at the time of the identification.
Imagine a crime. Whether robbery, burglary or assault. The recollection of eyewitnesses is just one piece of a prosecution’s case. Having a defense attorney in Massachusetts who understands the issues and knows what it takes to challenge the evidence can have a drastic impact on a defendant’s case.
The court ruled when such disputed evidence is admitted, the judge must give detailed instructions to jurors on factors that could result in misidentification. While the new rules are only applicable in New Jersey, court watchers say the ruling could begin having an impact nationwide.
The New Jersey high court has long been at the forefront of criminal law. The 134-page unanimous decision was penned by the court’s chief justice, Stuart J. Rabner. It called for a revision of the 34-year-old U.S. Supreme Court decision that outlined the test of reliability for eyewitnesses.
A special master assigned to study the issue estimated there have been more than 2,000 studies about the reliability of eyewitness testimony since the Supreme Court decision in 1977.
“Indeed, it is now widely known that eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions across the country,” Rabner wrote.”
Factors a judge should consider in establishing the credibility of an eyewitness include:
-Whether a weapon was visible during a crime.
-The amount of observation time.
-Distance between witness and suspect.
-Witness alcohol or drug use.
-Length of time between incident and identification.
-Whether the eyewitness and suspect are of different races.
Massachusetts Defense Lawyer Michael DelSignore represents clients facing serious misdemeanor and felony charges throughout the state.
Call (508) 455-4755 for a free consultation, 24 hours a day, including weekends and holidays.
In New Jersey, Rules are Changed on Witness IDs, by Benjamin Weiser, The New York Times.