5757 The Brain and the Bench: Eyewitness Testimony, Police Lineups, and Criminal Trials

Sunday, February 19, 2012: 9:00 AM
Room 220 (VCC West Building)
Ronald Reinstein , Superior Court of Arizona (retired), Scottsdale, AZ
“I’ll never forget the face of the man who held a gun to my face.”  According to several studies, of the over 270 people who have been exonerated from their criminal convictions with the use of DNA evidence, over 75% have involved mistaken eyewitness identifications.  Being a victim or a witness of a violent criminal act can impact the witness’ memory.  Traditionally, many justice system participants have believed the victim/witness memory is enhanced when faced with a traumatic episode such as a rape, armed robbery, or homicide, but years of social science research has demonstrated that eyewitness identification is not always reliable and that issues such as weapons focus, cross-racial identification, and face memory can impact crime witnesses.  Several states have implemented significant changes, either by case law or legislatively, to improve the method by which law enforcement agencies conduct photographic lineups.  A recent National Institute of Justice study reports that there are ways to improve eyewitness reliability through the use of “double blind”, sequential photo lineups.  Some law enforcement agencies have embraced the changes, while others have embraced them.  The New Jersey Supreme Court recently set new rules to address the weaknesses.  They found in New Jersey courts based on a “troubling lack of reliability” of eyewitness identification.  This session will explore what courts and other justice system participants can do to improve eyewitness reliability, including lineup procedures, jury instructions, and the use of expert witnesses.  This work is essential to promote fairness and justice in criminal trials.