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Eyewitness Identification Reform Leads to Jury Mistrust of Eyewitness Testimony

In our criminal justice system, one of the most convincing pieces of evidence used in criminal proceedings is eyewitness testimony. Our society tends to greatly weigh eyewitness testimony over other pieces of evidence when determining the guilt or innocence of a criminal defendant. It is because we believe in the foolproof and strong nature of human memory and that while other things in life may deceive us, our experiences generally do not.

Purpose Behind Rules of Evidence

Over the last few years, there has been a significant shift in evidence research recognizing that human memory is not as foolproof and impenetrable as we are led to believe, and that our memories and how we observe events are easily influenced. This is why evidence rules are changing to ensure that human memory and eyewitness testimony is not used to convict without other evidentiary corroboration. The federal rules of evidence and the state-specific evidence rules were drafted and put into effect to ensure that evidence is judged for its materiality, relevance, and prejudice before being put in front of the jury. The purpose behind the rules of evidence is to make sure that criminal defendants are only convicted on cold, hard, demonstrative evidence, rather than through circumstantial and easily malleable evidence.

The Effect on Jury Reliance on Eyewitness Testimony

The shift to reviewing the way in which courts deal with eyewitness testimony has, however, had a cooling effect on the trustworthiness of the evidence. One court in New Jersey found that when juries were made aware that eyewitness testimony and human memory may not be as foolproof as they may be led to believe, they were even more incredulous of eyewitness testimony and were less likely to convict on it. The jury instructions put forth by the court had included passages that stated that eyewitness testimony should be held to the highest standard and scrutinized cautiously. The instructions, in some opponents’ opinions, went too far as it criticized eyewitness testimony procedures that are considered reasonably reliable.

Psychologists who studied the effect that these instructions had on juries found that juries who were made aware of the instructions in comparison with juries who were not instructed were significantly less likely to convict based on eyewitness testimony.

Eyewitness Reform in Florida

Florida is one of several states attempting to reform eyewitness testimony procedures. This is because misidentification has been identified as the leading cause of wrongful convictions of thousands of people over the decades. 2012 was the last time that the Florida Supreme Court adopted new jury instructions regarding eyewitness testimony. The jury instructions issued a nine-factor test that examined the reliability of eyewitness testimony and would force juries to assess how much weight to give to testimony that they have heard in court when determining guilt or innocence of the criminal defendant in question.

Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Fort Lauderdale

Eyewitness misidentification is one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions so it is important that eyewitnesses are protected from any type of inappropriate influence that may tamper with their observations. An experienced defense attorney like Kevin J. Kulik will help to combat any illegal line-ups or photo identifications that may unfairly prejudice a criminal defendant. Contact Kevin J. Kulik today for a free and confidential consultation in the Fort Lauderdale area.

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