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New Jury Instructions in New Jersey Will Warn of Problems in Eyewitness IDs

Posted Jul 20, 2012 7:17 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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New jury instructions in New Jersey will warn that human memory is not foolproof and eyewitness testimony must be carefully scrutinized.

Set to take effect on Sept. 4, the new instructions follow a landmark ruling last year by the New Jersey Supreme Court that makes it easier for defendants to challenge the reliability of eyewitness identifications, the New York Times reports. The decision also required juries to be instructed on the variables that could lead to mistaken identifications.

The new instructions say accurate identifications may be hampered by stress, distance, poor lighting and differences in the race of the suspect and the witness. “Research has shown that people may have greater difficulty in accurately identifying members of a different race,” the instructions say.

The instructions also warn of problems in lineups. The passage of time before a lineup or the behavior of a police officer during the process can influence the witness, the instructions say.

Experts told the Times that the new instructions are expected to influence other state courts. University of Virginia law professor Brandon Garrett told the newspaper that the instructions are the most detailed and careful in the country.

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