News 07.16.13

The Trentonian Examines New Jersey’s Historic Stance on Eyewitness Evidence

Two years after the New Jersey Supreme Court’s ruling in State v. Henderson,

The Trentonian

examines the case through every stage, from the criminal investigation to the appeals process, and explains the impact that the ruling has had on state court proceedings. 
Larry Henderson, of Camden, received an 11-year sentence for reckless manslaughter and weapons possession related to the fatal shooting of Rodney Harper in 2003. A central piece of evidence against him was the identification of one of the witnesses, who was pressured by investigators to pick someone out of an eight-person photo lineup. When the witness narrowed it down to two photos, investigators urged him to take another look. This was in clear violation of the New Jersey Attorney General’s Guidelines for conducting identification procedures, and attorneys appealed the conviction on those grounds.
With the help of the Innocence Project, the case made it to the high court, which enlisted the help of Special Master Judge Geoffrey Gaulkin to review the scientific literature about eyewitness misidentification and to issue recommendations.

The Trentonian

reports: 

The court fully embraced the recommendations. The result is “the most detailed” precautionary jury instructions in America on eyewitness testimony, according to Brandon L. Garrett, University of Virginia law professor and author of “Convicting the Innocent.”


Now New Jersey jurors will hear instructions such as these:


— “Although nothing may appear more convincing than a witness’ categorical identification of a perpetrator, you must critically examine such testimony.”

— “Even if made in good faith, eyewitness identification may be mistaken.”

— “A witness’ level of confidence, standing alone, may not be an indication of the reliability of an identification.”


These and other jury instructions flow from Judge Gaulkin’s report that an unknown number of likely innocent people are behind bars due to mistaken eyewitness testimony.

 

Eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions later overturned through DNA evidence, contributing to nearly 75% of these cases. Decades of scientific research shows that eyewitness evidence, just like any other kind of evidence, is subject to contamination. Witnesses can be influenced and memories can become distorted. 

New Jersey is now the national leader in eyewitness identification reform, though 12 other states have also taken action to reduce the rate of misidentification through procedural reforms and law enforcement training.
Read the

full article

Read

more

about the Henderson decision. 
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