Posted: December 7, 2012 10:10 AM
An editorial in today’s New York Times hails Oregon’s Supreme Court for its landmark ruling last week mandating major changes in the way courts handle identification procedures by shifting the burden to the state to establish that eyewitness identification evidence is sufficiently reliable to be admissible at trial. The New York Times writes “By altering the legal standard, Oregon has set an example that other states and the federal courts would be wise to follow.”
Previously, trial courts had to assume eyewitness identifications were admissible unless defendants could show that they were unreliable.
In ruling that such evidence should be subject to stricter standards, the court took into account three decades of scientific research showing that memory and perception can be highly unreliable. “Because of the alterations to memory that suggestiveness can cause,” the court said, “it is incumbent on courts and law enforcement personnel to treat eyewitness memory just as carefully as they would other forms of trace evidence, like DNA, bloodstains, or fingerprints, the evidentiary value of which can be impaired or destroyed by contamination.”
The justices further ruled that, even if the state proves that an identification is likely to be well-founded, a judge can still bar its use if the defendant establishes that it might be the result of “suggestive police procedures.”
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