TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey’s highest court unanimously ordered changes to the way eyewitness identifications are used in court, saying the current system is not reliable enough, fails to deter police misconduct and overstates jurors’ ability to evaluate the evidence.
Currently, a defendant has and will continue to carry the burden of proving there was undue suggestion during the identification process. But now, the Court has ordered that when a defendant can show some evidence of suggestiveness by police, a pretrial hearing must be held to explore it. The Court will now require a system be developed to better explain to juries the potential flaws with eyewitness identifications. The new rules, once they are devised, will apply to future cases and two cases that prompted the ruling.
- Nationally, eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, playing a role in more than 75 percent of the 273 convictions overturned through DNA testing.
- Three of the five exoneration cases in New Jersey involved misidentification.
- The Supreme Court’s ultimate ruling is expected to influence courts in places besides New Jersey because the review was so comprehensive.