A white woman with an artistic talent for painting people convincingly identified the two black men who she believed had tried to rob her at gunpoint in Baltimore, says the Baltimore Sun. The state’s highest court threw out the convictions. In a closely divided opinion that could affect scores of future cases throughout the state, the Court of Appeals ruled that defense attorneys should have been allowed to tell jurors about the pitfalls of a white person trying to identify a black person. “This will be a greater challenge to us in securing convictions in cases where there is a cross-racial identification,” said Tony Gioia, a city prosecutor who trains other prosecutors on legal issues.
The opinion makes clear that the cross-racial argument need not be permitted in all cases, only in those in which the eyewitness testimony of one person is pivotal. Studies have found cross-racial identification can pose a problem, which jurors should have heard during closing arguments, the court said. Research in articles such as “They All Look Alike: The Inaccuracy of Cross-Racial Identification,” has suggested that witnesses are better able to identify people of their own race than they are people of different races. This is particularly true, according to the research, of whites identifying blacks. In the Baltimore case, a judge prohibited the defense from raising the cross-racial identification topic.