Eyewitness Identifications: The New Jersey Supreme Court
Leads the Way Again
Imagine the following scenario: You are charged with a crime. You are convicted. You are sentenced to State Prison. There is only one problem—you did not commit the crime. You were falsely identified by another person as the perpetrator. Tragically that horrible scenario has become a reality for far too many people in this country.
Fortunately, however, the New Jersey Supreme Court greatly has reduced the risk of that scenario becoming a reality for the rest of us with its recent landmark decision in State v. Henderson, A-8 Sept. Term 2008, 2011 WL 3715028 (N.J. Aug. 24, 2011).
In Henderson, the Supreme Court noted that over 30 years of scientific research on eyewitness identification and memory offers convincing proof that the present legal standard for evaluating the reliability of eyewitness identifications should be changed.
The Court stated:
Study after study revealed a troubling lack of reliability in eyewitness identifications. From social science research to the review of police lineups, from laboratory experiments to DNA exonerations, the record proves that the possibility of mistaken identification is real. Indeed, it is presently widely known that eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions across the county.
According to the Innocence Project, mistaken eyewitness identifications were involved in more than three out of four of the 273 convictions overturned through DNA testing nationwide.
Given those frightening statistics, it is encouraging that the Supreme Court’s new ruling will significantly reduce the risk of mistaken or false eyewitness identifications by (1) requiring courts greatly to expand the factors that judges and juries should consider in assessing the risk of misidentification and (2) requiring judges to give more detailed instructions to juries about potential flaws in eyewitness identifications.
As a consequence of the Supreme Court’s decision in Henderson, many innocent individuals will be saved from the tragedy that results when someone is convicted of a crime he or she did not commit. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision, our criminal justice system just moved one step closer to its ultimate goal—the search for truth.
Please contact us (856-637-3000) in the event you need legal advice regarding a criminal matter.
– Joseph J. Hoffman, III