Eyewitness Identifications and State Courts as Guardians Against Wrongful Conviction
Sandra Guerra Thompson
University of Houston Law Center
Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, Forthcoming
University of Houston Law Center No. 2010-A-1
Despite a growing awareness that mistaken eyewitness identifications contribute significantly to wrongful convictions, most courts continue to apply federal due process criteria for admissibility of eyewitness identification that has proved useless in protect against the use of highly unreliable evidence. In response, this Article reviews the path-breaking decisions of several State Supreme Courts that have blazed their own trail. It explores the issues that courts have addressed, the rules they have devised, and the legal grounds for their decisions, and from this, concludes that State Supreme Courts can implement appropriate criteria that would in fact promote accuracy and fairness in the use of eyewitness identification.
Part I briefly outlines and critiques the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence on eyewitness identifications and due process. It treads on ground well-worn by scholars who have for decades decried the Court’s failure to provide a due process test that would protect against the use of unreliable identification evidence. Part II explores the role that State appellate courts can play in developing a jurisprudence of eyewitness identification evidence that meaningfully incorporates social science research and carefully balances the interests of law enforcement and the accused.
Finally, because of the superior role that judges have in protecting both constitutional and civil rights as well as the integrity of the administration of criminal justice, the article concludes that it is incumbent on State Supreme Courts to show leadership in developing solutions to the problems that plague this area . Accordingly, Part III argues that State Supreme Courts are well-suited to take an active part in the “laboratory” model of criminal justice that characterizes our federalist system.