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New Jersey Supreme Court Changes Rules Related to Eyewitnesses Identifications

The New Jersey Supreme Court has acknowledged that there exists a "troubling lack of reliability in eyewitness identifications" and has issued new rules that make it easier for a defendant to challenge this type of evidence in a criminal case. Chief Justice Stuart Rabner stated "it is now widely known that eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions across the country."

What the Court said is that when a defendant present evidence that a witness's identification of a suspect may have been somehow tainted, i.e., by the police, the judge in the case must hold a hearing to evaluate such factors as police influence, lighting, elapsed time since the crime was committed or if the eyewitness felt stress at the time of the identification.

If such disputed eyewitness evidence is in fact allowed into the case, the judge must instruct the jury on influences that that could heighten the risk of misidentification. In the past, such hearings were held, but they were far more limited.

The Court's opinion was based in part on an exhaustive study of the scientific research on eyewitness identification that was reviewed by a "special master" (a retired judge whose sole function was to evaluate evidence on this issue). Special Master Geoffry Gaulkin said that more than 2,000 studies on the subject has been published since 1977.

The Court's opinion listed more than a dozen factors that a judge should consider in evaluating the reliability of a witness' s identification, including whether a weapon was visible during a crime of short duration, the amount of time the witness had to observe the event, how close the witness was to the suspect, whether the witness was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, whether the witness was identifying someone of a different race and the length of time that had elapsed between the crime and the identification.

Although the decision only applies in New Jersey, our Supreme Court is frequently a trailblazer in criminal law. It is possible that other states my follow the New Jersey lead and change their guidlines pertaining to this type of evidence as well.

If you have been identified by a witness as a defendant in a criminal case in northern new jersey, you need a a northern new jersey criminal defense attorney.

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