Massachusetts to Evaluate How Eyewitness Identification Testimony is Presented and Evaluated in Court
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is scheduled to hear from defense attorneys next month about adopting changes in the way eyewitness identification testimony is presented to juries. The
reported that four cases will be considered in the push to implement stronger instructions to advise jurors that eyewitness identifications are not always reliable.
Among the cases is the conviction of Jeremy Gomes who was not picked out of a police photo array by the victim of a box cutter slashing, but who was later identified by that victim when he saw Gomes in a gas station a week following the incident. Gomes’ lawyer John Fennel is challenging the conviction based on unreliable eyewitness identifications of the victim and his friend.
According to the
, Fennel believes that jurors need to be made aware, particularly by judges, about the fallibility of eyewitness identification, even by crime victims who strongly believe that they have identified the right person.
‘‘These are people who had something terrible happen to them. They are people of good will trying to do the best they can, but what the science tells us is that people of good will are just wrong about this a lot,’’ Fennel said, according to the
Decades of research and scientific evidence have shown that the human memory is easily influenced and not like a video recording. The Innocence Network is among the many groups that have long questioned the reliability of eyewitness testimony and has filed a legal brief supporting more cautionary instructions from judges on the matter.
The most common element in all wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA evidence has been eyewitness misidentification and, yet, juries continue to accept eyewitness testimony as the gold standard. The American Psychological Association cites a study showing as many as 40 percent of witnesses who made positive identifications were mistaken despite describing themselves as 90 percent to 100 percent confident in their identifications. The push for change comes in response to statistics such as these, according to the
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