Saying that convictions are too often based on inaccurate identification, a report ordered by the New Jersey Supreme Court calls for mandatory pretrial hearings to evaluate the testimony of eyewitnesses in all criminal cases, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. The report said judges should consider scientific studies that explain why the most certain of witnesses may be wrong, and how to ensure better reliability.
If the recommendations are adopted by the state’s highest court, New Jersey would have the country’s most rigorous system to deal with eyewitness testimony, which is known to carry great weight with juries but has attracted increasing concern. “It’s very significant,” said Gary Wells, a psychology professor at Iowa State University who testified before a retired New Jersey judge who examined the issue. The report was ordered in the appeal of a defendant, Larry Henderson, who contended that a lineup in his manslaughter case violated 2001 guidelines on eyewitnesses. The high court ordered a sweeping inquiry into the issue, with input from the state Attorney General’s Office, the state Public Defender, the Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers of New Jersey, and the New York-based Innocence Project. More than 200 studies, articles, and books were examined, and seven experts testified before retired appellate Judge Geoffrey Gaulkin, who filed an 88-page report.