Washington State Courts Debate Cross-Racial Identifications


Research into human memory and eyewitness identification has shown that eyewitnesses get it wrong more often when identifying a person of a different race. More than half of the eyewitness misidentifications in wrongful convictions have involved a witness of one race and a suspect of another.

And the issue of cross-racial identification has flared up in Washington State, as NPR affiliate KPLU reported today:

The Washington Supreme Court says letting a judge warn jurors about the questionable accuracy of cross racial eyewitness accounts amounts to letting a judge comment on the validity of the evidence, something that’s prohibited by the state constitution.

Some lower court judges are frustrated by the high court’s position. That was more than evident recently in a Washington Court of Appeals ruling.

In a rather unusual move, Judge Anne Ellington, writing a concurring opinion in State of Washington v. Bryan Edward Allen, openly chided the State Supreme Court to change its stance.

She wrote:

“…we should advise jurors of a fact known to us but contrary to their intuition: that cross racial identification should be carefully scrutinized. We can draft such an instruction without making a judicial comment on evidence, and I believe it is past time to do so.”

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Read more about eyewitness misidentification and cross-racial identification


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