I have done several posts on this blog (here, here, here, here, and here) about the inaccuracy of regular and cross-racial eyewitness identifications and whether expert testimony about this inaccuracy should be allowed. My general sense is that most courts allow such expert testimony although a decent number of courts, such as the Eleventh Circuit and Minnesota courts, preclude it. Now, based upon the recent opinion of the Supreme Court of Utah in State v. Clopten, 2009 WL 4877404 (Utah 2009), we can add Utah courts to the list of courts that allow such expert testimony.
Blogs Prof. Collin Miller. Note that the Military Judges’ Benchbook already has an instruction about cross-racial identification for use at court-martial. Prof. Miller:
"'[T]he vagaries of eyewitness identification are well known; the annals of criminal law are rife with instances of mistaken identification.’"…Decades of study, both before and particularly after Long, have established that eyewitnesses are prone to identifying the wrong person as the perpetrator of a crime, particularly when certain factors are present….For example, people identify members of their own race with greater accuracy than they do members of a different race….In addition, accuracy is significantly affected by factors such as the amount of time the culprit was in view, lighting conditions, use of a disguise, distinctiveness of the culprit’s appearance, and the presence of a weapon or other distractions….Moreover, there is little doubt that juries are generally unaware of these deficiencies in human perception and memory and thus give great weight to eyewitness identifications….Indeed, juries seemed to be swayed the most by the confidence of an eyewitness, even though such confidence correlates only weakly with accuracy….That the empirical data is conclusive on these matters is not disputed by either party in this case and has not been questioned by this court in the decisions that followed Long.
Friday’s Utah Supreme Court decision essentially mandating expert testimony about the pitfalls of eyewitness identification has had an immediate impact.
A January murder trial for Eugene Christopher Wright was canceled this week because eyewitness testimony is a crucial element of the state’s case and the defense needs time to find an expert.