34 Years Later, Supreme Court Will Revisit Eyewitness IDs | 08/22/11 | Adam Liptak | New York Times

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WASHINGTON – Every year, more than 75,000 eyewitnesses identify suspects in criminal investigations. Numerous studies have suggested, eyewitness identifications are wrong about a third of the time. Mistaken identifications have led to wrongful convictions as “there is almost nothing more convincing, than a live human being who takes the stand, points a finger at the defendant, and says, ‘That’s the one!’” (Watkins v. Sowders,  449 U.S. 341 (1981), dissent, Justice William J. Brennan Jr. quoting from a 1979 leading study by Elizabeth F. Loftus.

In November 2011, the Supreme Court will return to the question of what the Constitution has to say about the use of eyewitness evidence. The case, Perry v. New Hampshire, is concerned with whether judges must take a hard look at all identifications arising from suggestive circumstances or only those involving official misconduct. The last time the court took a hard look at this question  was in 1977 with Manson v. Brathwaite, 432 U.S. 98. Since then, the scientific understanding of human memory has been transformed.

For the full article see: 34 Years Later, Supreme Court Will Revisit Eyewitness IDs By Adam Liptak

For more information see:

State of NJ v. Larry R. Henderson (2008), a pioneering report from a special master appointed by the New Jersey Supreme Court. The special master, Geoffrey Gaulkin, suggested that memory should be treated “as a form of trace evidence: a fragment collected at the scene of a crime, like a fingerprint or blood smear, whose integrity and reliability need to be monitored and assessed from the point of its recovery to its ultimate presentation at trial.”

NJ Supreme Court Orders Changes To Way Eyewitness Identifications Are Used In Trials; Warns Eyewitness Identification Evidence Unreliable | Huffington Post | 08/24/11

11/2/11 UPDATE

Court takes up case on eyewitness identification – http://bit.ly/s1a0je by Mark Sherman Associated Press / November 2, 2011.

1/11/12 UPDATE


About vinhsu

Center City Philadelphia General Practice Law Firm with emphasis on Criminal Defense, Family Law, Immigration, Real Property, and Wills/Trusts/ Estate Planning. Licensed in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
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3 Responses to 34 Years Later, Supreme Court Will Revisit Eyewitness IDs | 08/22/11 | Adam Liptak | New York Times

  1. Lynn Murphy says:

    Re: “quoting from a 1979 leading study by Elizabeth F. Loftus”
    The site you refer to does not have a 1979 study. It’s a 1979 book by Loftus, “Eyewitness Testimony.” No 1979 eyewitness study by Loftus is cited in the book. Could you clarify the study Brennan quoted from?

    • vinhsu says:

      @Murphy: Thank you for reading the article! In regards to your question, Professor Loftus wrote an entire book on eyewitness identification. Certain principles and a study of her’s from that book were generally cited by Justice Brennan in his dissenting opinion in Watkins v. Sowders, 449 U.S. 341 (1981) (hyper-linked in my post). Though the details of the study are not mentioned, they can be found— if we can get our hands on that book. Without the book, I took another look at Watkins v. Sowders and found the following references to Professor Loftus’ book which can give us a general picture of her findings:

      [ Footnote 1 ] The special nature of eyewitness identification evidence has produced an enormous reservoir of scholarly writings, many based on solid empirical research. For a bibliography of that literature, see E. Loftus, Eyewitness Testimony 237-247 (1979).
      [ Footnote 3 ] “[J]uries unfortunately are often unduly receptive to [identification] evidence . . . .” Manson v. Brathwaite, 432 U.S. 98, 120 (1977) (MARSHALL, J., dissenting) (footnote omitted). See Loftus, supra, at 8-19;
      [ Footnote 4 ] Loftus, supra, at 19 (emphasis supplied). Professor Loftus exhaustively canvasses statistical and psychological evidence which persuasively supports her conclusion that eyewitness identification evidence is “overwhelmingly influential.” Id., at 9.
      [ Footnote 5 ] Professor Loftus, ibid. (emphasis in original), observes that “[j]urors [449 U.S. 341, 353] have been known to accept eyewitness testimony pointing to guilt even when it is far outweighed by evidence of innocence.”

      I hope this information helps.

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