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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

GA Supreme Court Negates "Certainty" Instruction in Eyewitness ID Cases

The Supreme Court of Georgia, relying on scientific studies on the lack of reliability of eyewitness identifications, recently held in Brodes v. State:  "Appellate courts have a responsibility to look forward, and a legal concept's longevity should not be extended when it is established that it is no longer appropriate. When identification is an essential issue at trial, appropriate guidelines focusing the jury's attention on how to analyze and consider the factual issues with regard to the reliability of a witness's identification of a defendant as the perpetrator are critical. In light of the scientifically-documented lack of correlation between a witness's certainty in his or her identification of someone as the perpetrator of a crime and the accuracy of that identification, and the critical importance of accurate jury instructions as "the lamp to guide the jury's feet in journeying through the testimony in search of a legal verdict," we can no longer endorse an instruction authorizing jurors to consider the witness's certainty in his/her identification as a factor to be used in deciding the reliability of that identification. Accordingly, we advise trial courts to refrain from informing jurors they may consider a witness's level of certainty when instructing them on the factors that may be considered in deciding the reliability of that identification."  [Mark Godsey, hat tip to Tulane CrimProf Pam Metzger]

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