Eyewitness Identification Review: 2011 Supreme Court Cases - U.S. Supreme Court
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Eyewitness Identification Review: 2011 Supreme Court Cases

Over the last 30 years, there have been a number of trends that have swept America twice: platform shoes, Bushes in the White House, and 90210, just to name a few.

One other reoccurring topic that hasn't been on America's radar during that time? Supreme Court challenges to eyewitness identification testimony.

In November, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Perry v. New Hampshire, addressing whether due process protections against unreliable eyewitness identification evidence apply to all identifications made under suggestive circumstances, or only when the suggestive circumstances were orchestrated by the police.

The last Supreme Court eyewitness case was decided in 1977, when the Court found that eyewitness identification of a suspect based on photographs could be valid based on the totality of the circumstances.

Since 1977, however, extensive psychological research has exposed the flaws in eyewitness identification testimony. In its amicus curiae brief in Perry, the American Psychological Association notes that in controlled experiments as well as studies of actual identifications, the rate of incorrect identifications is consistently 33 percent.

The greatest danger associated with eyewitness identification? Juries tend to place unwavering faith in eyewitness testimony, and convict innocent people. A recent study offers the staggering statistic that of the first 250 DNA exonerations, 190 involved eyewitness identification, reports The New York Times.

Already, prosecutors are battling rising acquittal rates due to the CSI Effect, a supposedly increased burden that viewers of the popular CBS series impose on forensic evidence. The practical implication of imposing greater limitations on eyewitness testimony is that conviction rates will plummet. While wrongful imprisonment cases would decline with stricter eyewitness identification rules, the number of guilty who walk free would likely increase.

If the Supreme Court's 2009 opinion in District Attorneys Office for Third Judicial District v. Osborne is any indication, the Court may well refrain from imposing sweeping reforms on the states' eyewitness identification processes; as the Osborne majority, (Justices Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito), remains intact.

For more updates on the status of Perry v. New Hampshire, and other 2011 Supreme Court cases, keep checking FindLaw's Supreme Court blog.

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