It was him, I’m sure

Maybe not.  There is quite a bit of research and anecdotal evidence to show that eyewitness testimony can be unreliable.  Now New Jersey is in the frontline of making sure a jury is aware of the potential problems with eyewitness testimony.  To quote the ABA Journal.

New jury instructions in New Jersey will warn that human memory is not foolproof and eyewitness testimony must be carefully scrutinized.

Set to take effect on Sept. 4, the new instructions follow a landmark ruling last year by the New Jersey Supreme Court that makes it easier for defendants to challenge the reliability of eyewitness identifications, the New York Times reports. The decision also required juries to be instructed on the variables that could lead to mistaken identifications.

The new instructions say accurate identifications may be hampered by stress, distance, poor lighting and differences in the race of the suspect and the witness. “Research has shown that people may have greater difficulty in accurately identifying members of a different race,” the instructions say.

The instructions also warn of problems in lineups. The passage of time before a lineup or the behavior of a police officer during the process can influence the witness, the instructions say.

Experts told the Times that the new instructions are expected to influence other state courts. University of Virginia law professor Brandon Garrett told the newspaper that the instructions are the most detailed and careful in the country.

Check out Instruction 7-7-2 in the current MJ Benchbook.  There is no rule prohibiting the defense to seek a more detailed instruction citing research and the New Jersey rules as foundation, especially if this is a critical issue in the case.

Next step, can you get an expert in eyewitness identification issues.

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