Supreme Court justices yesterday challenged the notion that testimony from arguably unreliable eyewitnesses should be specially scrutinized at trial because of how it can lead to wrongful convictions, reports USA Today. As Justice Antonin Scalia put it,”Why is unreliable eyewitness identification any different from unreliable anything else?” introduced at trial.
“Eyewitness identification evidence is unique,” responded lawyer Richard Guerriero, representing a man whose theft conviction was based partly on the report of a woman who said she watched him out her apartment window. Guerriero called mistaken IDs “the leading cause of miscarriages of justice.” Justice Elena Kagan said jailhouse informants could also create an especially “unreliable” category. “I understand you have very good empirical evidence which should lead us all to wonder about the reliability of eyewitness testimony,” she said. New Hampshire Attorney General Michael Delaney, urging the court to uphold the theft conviction, said identification evidence should be specially reviewed by a judge only when police obtained the ID through an unnecessarily suggestive police method — for example, in photos shown to a witness.
Editor’s Note: You can find a perspective on the eyewitness case by TCR contributor James Doyle HERE.