A decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit addressed the reliability of eyewitness identification when it ruled Tuesday that defendant Rudolph Young’s constitutional rights were violated by a tainted identification procedure. The unanimous decision in
Young v. Conway
relied heavily on an amicus brief from the Innocence Project and the scientific research that it presented about witness memory.
In this case, the victim witness and her husband were at home outside of Rochester, New York, in March 1991 when their house was broken into by a heavily disguised robber wielding an ax. Immediately after the crime, the victim was unable to provide more than a general description of the perpetrator and was unable to assist a police sketch artist. A month later, she was shown a photo array containing Young’s photograph and did not identify anyone. However, the following day, when she was shown a live lineup that again included Young—the only person to appear in both the photographic and live lineup—she identified him as the perpetrator.
The Court addressed a number of problems with the identification that the Innocence Project had outlined in its brief, including the witness’s limited opportunity to view the assailant, the challenge of identifying a person of another race, the length of time that passed between the crime and the identification, and the multiple viewings of the same suspect.
Collaborating on the amicus brief were Barry Scheck, David Loftis and Karen Newirth of the Innocence Project and James Brochin, Jennifer Wu and Cassius Sims of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. The New York Law Journal reports:
“The Innocence Project is thrilled that the Second Circuit recognized the importance of the scientific research we presented regarding the reliability of eyewitness identification,” Newirth said in an interview yesterday. “We believe that this important decision will help guide federal courts in the Second Circuit and state courts in New York who are evaluating eyewitness identification.”