A year after the New Jersey Supreme Court made a sweeping ruling aimed at resolving the “troubling lack of reliability in eyewitness identifications,” it issued instructions on Thursday for judges to give jurors to help them better evaluate such evidence in criminal trials, reports the New York Times. A judge now must tell jurors before deliberations begin that, for example, stress levels, distance or poor lighting can undercut an eyewitness's ability to make an accurate identification.
Factors like the time that has elapsed between the commission of a crime and a witness's identification of a suspect or the behavior of a police officer during a lineup can also influence a witness, the new instructions warn. And in cases involving cross-racial identifications, judges were directed to tell jurors that “research has shown that people may have greater difficulty in accurately identifying members of a different race.” The new instructions caution jurors that eyewitness testimony must be scrutinized carefully: “Human memory is not foolproof.” The new instructions take effect on Sept. 4. They are expected to be influential as other state courts look to revise their approach to eyewitness identification, several legal experts said.