Monday, August 29, 2011
The decision by New Jersey’s Supreme Court last week to overhaul the state’s rules for how judges and jurors treat evidence from police lineups could help transform the way officers conduct a central technique of police work, criminal justice experts say.
In its ruling, the court strongly endorsed decades of research demonstrating that traditional eyewitness identification procedures are flawed and can send innocent people to prison. By making it easier for defendants to challenge witness evidence in criminal cases, the court for the first time attached consequences for investigators who fail to take steps to reduce the subtle pressures and influences on witnesses that can result in mistaken identifications.
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Although some states are studying revisions or require single changes in procedure, only two — New Jersey and North Carolina — mandate the two practices that researchers regard as most important: lineups that are blinded, that is, administered by someone who is not familiar with the suspect and who is not one of the primary investigators on the case; and photo arrays that are presented sequentially rather than as a group. Both practices, studies find, decrease the pressure on witnesses to pick someone and guard against influence.