The New Jersey Supreme Court, citing a “troubling lack of reliability in eyewitness identifications,” issued sweeping new rules making it easier for defendants to challenge such evidence in criminal cases, reports the New York Times. The court said that when a defendant presents evidence that a witness’ identification of a suspect was influenced, a judge most hold a hearing on a broad range of issues.
These could include police behavior, but also factors like lighting, the time that had elapsed since the crime, or whether the victim felt stress at the time of the identification. When such disputed evidence is admitted, the judge must give detailed explanations to jurors, even in the middle of a trial, on influences that could heighten the risk of misidentification. The decision is likely to have considerable impact nationally. The state's highest court has long been considered a trailblazer in criminal law, and New Jersey has been a leader in establishing guidelines on how judges should handle such testimony. Stuart Rabner, the the court's chief justice, wrote in a unanimous 134-page decision that the test for reliability of eyewitness testimony set out by the U.S. Supreme Court 34 years ago should be revised.