Court’s Eyewitness ID Ruling Expressed “Abundant Faith” In Juries


Yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling on eyewitness identifications expressed an abundant faith in trial juries' capacity to root out questionable eyewitness accounts, says Lyle Denniston on As reported here yesterday, the court, by an 8-1 vote, refused to require a new screening procedure in situations where police have not actually manipulated the identification – intentionally or not. The ruling came amid growing complaints that those who claim to have seen a crime occurring too often get it wrong, resulting in unjustified guilty verdicts because of the high value most jurors place on what they deem to be first-hand observation.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg insisted that the court was adding nothing new to a long-standing practice of allowing jurors, not judges in a mid-trial screening process, to decide whether to believe eyewitness testimony. Jurors, with their roles at least partly limited by the constitutional rights of the suspect, have been trusted to evaluate such testimony, unless their judgment has been influenced by police creation of “suggestive circumstances” surrounding the identification, Ginsburg noted. The court rejected a plea by a New Hampshire man to require such a screening procedure by the judge any time an identification had been made in a “suggestive” setting. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the lone dissenter, would have required that approach, arguing that it was dictated by the court's precedents.

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