Florida Passes New Standards for Eyewitness Identification Methods and Testimony
Many times when a criminal defendant is being charged with a crime, the most damning evidence against him or her is the eyewitness. In our country, we place a significant amount of weight on people’s abilities to perceive an event.
Misidentification is More Common than Originally Thought
According to the Innocence Project, eyewitness misidentification was a major cause in wrongful conviction in 72 percent of cases which were eventually overturned based on DNA evidence. The University of Michigan estimated that 507 of 1,434 exonerations were the result of witness misidentification. This is just one more study of many prepared which espouses the idea that eyewitnesses may not be as reliable as originally thought. The American Psychological Association has found that the rate of misidentifications is estimated at 33 percent. There have also been studies showing that racial differences between the eyewitness and the suspect make it more likely that the eyewitness will choose the wrong defendant.
Many states are divided on the amount of weight that should be given to eyewitnesses. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 had an opportunity to institute a standard for eyewitness testimony but decided that eyewitness testimony should be left to the states for determination. Many states have since reformed, Florida included.
Eyewitness Methods and Reformation of Present Standards
Methods are extremely important in ensuring that misidentifications are limited. For example, suspects chosen out of a line up are more likely to be chosen incorrectly than when the eyewitness is able to choose from a combination of innocent fillers and when the suspect is present. Advocates for reform of the present standards in place believe that blind lineups are the best method whereby the eyewitness must choose out of a group but not told which one is the suspect, and for the police to not only record the encounter but also to note the eyewitnesses’ degree of confidence after the identifications are made.
Florida’s Eyewitness Statute
Florida’s new Eyewitness statute attempts to make the standards surrounding eyewitness methods and testimony more stringent. One addition to the method requires that an automated computer program publish the photo lineups to the eyewitness, and the eyewitness then selects the person without telling the administrator until after all photos have been viewed. This is to ensure that the administrator does not bias the eyewitness by making some sign or note of who the suspect is currently.
Florida’s Amended Jury Instructions
Florida also has amended its jury instructions to educate the jury about the factors and standards they must balance when deciding the weight to give the eyewitness’ testimony. The jury instruction requires that juries must evaluate the testimony in consideration of:
- The length of time and opportunity that the eyewitness had to observe the suspect;
- If there was any influence or suggestion that could unduly bias the eyewitness’ memory or testimony;
- The lineup method used by the police at the time of initial identification;
- The witness’s familiarity with the suspect and/or prior relationship between the two;
- The time period between the event and identification of the suspect;
- The racial differences between the eyewitness and the suspect; and
- The totality of the circumstances with regards to the eyewitness’ identification.
Criminal Defense Attorney in Fort Lauderdale
Misidentification is a nationwide problem and, until more stringent standards are put into place, it will continue to happen. It is important that a defendant have an experienced Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney like Kevin J. Kulik at his side to ensure that all police methods, investigations, and protocols are being followed to the letter. Contact the law offices of Kevin J. Kulik for a free and confidential consultation.