Experts and Identification


A Florida judge

ruled today

that an expert in the science of human memory and eyewitness identifications can offer limited testimony at the trial of a man charged with killing three people in 2007. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in the case and say they plan to rely heavily on eyewitness identification.

For now, (the judge) is allowing the testimony, but is placing limitations on what the expert, John Brigham, can discuss. Brigham can express opinion on general issues, including the length of time an eyewitness observes an event or the impact of stress on eyewitness identification, but can’t discuss how that relates to specific witnesses in this case.

He’s also precluded from addressing the number of defendants who were convicted largely through eyewitness testimony, and were later exonerated through DNA evidence.

Rules vary nationwide on whether courts will allow expert testimony on the science of eyewitness identification, but sometimes experts are admitted and only allowed to offer limited testimony. The Innocence Project strongly supports the admission of eyewitness experts, for both prosecution and defense, to provide background for judges and juries on variables that affect the reliability of identifications.

A major ruling last month

from a New Jersey judge could lead to critical changes in the way that state – and others – handle eyewitness identification evidence in court, including the admission of experts.


an editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer last week

calls on Pennsylvania lawmakers to follow New Jersey’s footsteps in proactively addressing unreliable eyewitness evidence. Pennsylvania is one of a few states that prohibit all expert testimony on the science of human memory and eyewitness identification.

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