The New Jersey Supreme Court has issued a new ruling that it believes will make eyewitness identification more accurate and reliable. Last week, the court ruled that when a defendant presents evidence that an identification was influenced, a judge must conduct a preliminary hearing to determine the admissibility of the evidence. The hearing must consider several issues that could influence the identification like lighting, and the amount of time since the crime occurred.
The Supreme Court has also ruled that juries must be given instructions about the possible mistakes that can occur with identifications, if necessary, even in the middle of a trial. According to the Supreme Court decision, police should record the identification procedure, and officers who are not involved in the investigation must conduct the lineup, in order to reduce the possibility of influencing the identification.
Earlier, judges could hold hearings when a defendant found evidence of influenced identification, but these hearings were limited. Also, if police were not involved in identification, then the identification could be admissible even if it was suggestive.
The New Jersey Supreme Court with this ruling admits that there is a lack of reliability with identification procedures in New Jersey. Courts must carefully consider identification evidence before this is admitted in order to completely rule out the possibility of mistaken identifications. According to Chief Justice Stuart G. Rabner, the Court’s ruling was partly based on an intensive study of research on eyewitness identification, which found a lack of reliability. The potential for mistaken identity was very much real.
New Jersey has long been one of the states at the forefront of witness identification standards, and in 2001 became the first state to establish strong guidelines for lineups in order to prevent identification errors. Eye witness identification is one of the biggest causes of wrongful convictions, not just in New Jersey, but around the country. This ruling should help limit the number of misidentification – related convictions.
The New Jersey criminal defense lawyers at Helmer Paul Conley and Kasselman represent persons charged with sex crimes, drug crimes, fraud, assault and other crimes across New Jersey.