Florida Judge Demands New Treatment of Eyewitness Expert Testimony


A Florida Supreme Court judge is publically calling for the state to update its 31-year-old law regarding how it handles the admissibility of eyewitness expert testimony in court.


According to CBS Miami, Justice Barbara Pariente, along with Justice Peggy Quince, issued comments on Thursday in an eight-page concurring opinion regarding the case of Florida death row inmate Charles Peterson. The inmate argued that he received ineffective counsel because his lawyer neglected to call an eyewitness identification expert to the stand at his trial. Pariente and the other judges unanimously denied Peterson’s claim, but in her comments, Pariente stated that, in general, juries should be allowed to hear from experts on eyewitness identification, especially for those cases that rest almost entirely or completely on the testimony of eyewitnesses. She noted that eyewitness misidentification has been a contributing factor in approximately 75 percent of the convictions later exonerated through DNA testing.


Pariente wrote: “As the burgeoning body of scientific research indicates and courts across the country increasingly recognize, expert witness testimony on the reliability of eyewitness identifications can be a ‘powerful tool in helping the criminal justice system achieve its goal of convicting the guilty while acquitting the innocent,’” according to CBS Miami.


Seth Miller, executive director of the

Innocence Project of Florida

, told CBS Miami that eyewitness identification is often successful in leading to convictions, but that it is “naïve” to think that jurors know enough to evaluate whether or not an eyewitness is reliable.


“Jurors can be prejudiced and overly compelled by that seminal moment in a trial where the defendant points at a person and says, ‘That is the person who raped me.’ And that can overshadow all of the other infirmities that exist with how the eyewitness identification may have happened. . . . That’s the kind of stuff these experts talk about and testify to. And these are things that jurors don’t know about. . . . but they’ve been studied and proven in an uncontradicted way by people within the social science community over the past 30 years,” said Miller, according to CBS Miami.


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