New Jersey courts taking the lead to inform jurors about the fallability of eyewitness testimony

By Darren M. Gelber |   Jul. 24, 2012

Once again, New Jersey steps to the forefront of progressive thinking with regard to certain criminal justice issues. While there are certainly areas of our criminal justice system that need improvement, we should also take the time to salute our system when it takes a step forward into modern reality. This marks one such occasion.

The New Jersey Supreme Court recently released an enhanced jury instruction regarding eyewitness testimony, a new court rule, and revised an existing court rule. These developments were the result of work done by a committee formed by the Court following its decision in State v. Henderson. In Henderson, the Court adopted the report of a Court-appointed Special Master commissioned to study the reliability of eyewitness testimony, and determined that scientific:

evidence offers convincing proof that the current test for evaluating the trustworthiness of eyewitness identifications should be revised. Study after study revealed a troubling lack of reliability in eyewitness identifications. From social science research to the review of actual police lineups, from laboratory experiments to DNA exonerations, the record proves that the possibility of mistaken identification is real. Indeed, it is now widely known that eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions across the country.

Cases in which individuals imprisoned based upon eyewitness testimony have later found to be innocent based on DNA evidence, and compelling stories on 60 Minutes on the subject, have helped frame a nationwide criminal justice debate on how courts should address the inherent fallibility of eyewitness evidence.

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