New Jersey Court Ruling Improves Criminal Defense

Criminal defense lawyers support an important eyewitness testimony decision handed down by New Jersey courts. The NJ highest court has determined that the previous manner of collection of eyewitness testimony is insufficient and flawed.

Statistics from the criminal justice system backing this decision show that 75 percent of a batch of 273 convictions was overturned due to eyewitness misidentification. Problems may arise during police interviewing that involve suggestiveness leading to misidentifications.

Many police interviewers show eyewitnesses a “six-pack” batch of suspect photos. If the interviewer knows which photo is the suspect there may be subtle influence upon the witness to select that particular photo. Once a suspect photo is selected, eyewitnesses tend to maintain loyalty to their selection. Race differences and the presence of a weapon may also influence eyewitness misidentification tendencies.

To avoid this problem, the New Jersey court recommended police interviewers only use a “sequential blind lineup” that show one photo at a time to the eyewitness. The interviewer does not know the identity of the suspect in each photograph, so there is less likelihood of the interviewer being able to influence the photo choice by the eyewitness.

This new ruling also demands a pretrial exploratory hearing if a defendant can show any evidence of police suggestiveness. Defendants still must prove undue suggestion was a force that influenced eyewitness selection of their photo in a lineup. Juries must be instructed regarding facts specific to the case under consideration to make better evaluations of evidence presented.

Given the severe penalties involved in criminal cases, an accused person should immediately obtain the services of a competent and experienced criminal defense attorney to protect their rights from the beginning.

Source: The Associated Press, “NJ court orders changes to witness ID evidence,” Beth DeFalco, Aug. 24, 2011

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