News 11.11.10

CT Supreme Court Excludes Key Eyewitness Testimony

A Connecticut murder case is continuing to attract controversy over eyewitness identification evidence and expert testimony.

In an op-ed that appeared in Tuesday’s Hartford Courant, Yale University political science professor David R. Cameron criticized the Connecticut Supreme Court for allowing eyewitness testimony that could lead to a wrongful conviction without allowing an identification expert to explain the potential inaccuracies.

Cameron pointed to the recent appeal of J’Veil Outing, who was convicted of murder in 2005 based on the testimony of two eyewitnesses.

In his appeal, Outing claimed the trial judge excluded parts of the testimony from an eyewitness identification expert in a pretrial hearing.  The judge’s exclusion was based on the 1986 Connecticut Supreme Court case

State v. Kemp

which found that “the reliability of eyewitness identification is within the knowledge of jurors and expert testimony generally would not assist them.” Cameron writes:

The judge allowed testimony about the risk of misidentification resulting from the way an identification procedure is conducted. But the expert was not allowed to testify that a misidentification can occur if the perpetrator was disguised or had a weapon. Nor was she allowed to testify that there is no correlation between the confidence with which an identification is made and its reliability, that stress associated with seeing a crime can affect the reliability of the identification and that collaboration between witnesses may lessen the reliability of the identification.

The court was unanimous in affirming Outing’s guilt but was divided 4-3 about whether or not to consider

Kemp

. Since the expert testimony came during a pretrial hearing, the majority didn’t think

Kemp

factored in to Outing’s case.

But Justice Richard N. Palmer disagreed, saying that the argument in

Kemp

had been discredited by several eyewitness misidentification studies conducted since the ruling. Palmer also said that for the majority to ignore the issue was “indefensible” since eyewitness testimony is “notoriously unreliable.” Cameron continues:

Reversing

Kemp

won’t eliminate the risk of wrongful convictions based on mistaken eyewitness identifications. Much more is needed – either legislation mandating improvements in current eyewitness identification procedures or, failing that, administrative issuance of best practice guidelines. But reversing that thoroughly discredited precedent would be an important step in the right direction.


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Read about eyewitness misidentification

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