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Recent New Jersey court decision focuses on witness identification


In some criminal trials, a powerful piece of information is whether someone identified the accused in connection with the crime. Recently a case went before the New Jersey Supreme Court that involved a witness identifying the defendant as the one who committed the crime. But before the trial it was discovered that the witness may have been pressured to identify someone.

When it comes to criminal defense, one issue that can arise is misidentification. There has been a lot of concern surrounding the measures that courts use to ensure reliable witness identification. In the NJ Supreme Court case mentioned above, the decision that the court reached may have a huge impact on criminal defense and witness identification in the future.

The decision requires additional consideration from the judge when presented with witness identification. There are a lot of factors that can influence a witness' recollection of a particularly traumatic or emotional event, like a crime. Now New Jersey courts will have to take a few things into consideration when deciding whether a witness' testimony is credible, such as:

  • Stress during the event,
  • The amount of time that passed from the actual time of the crime to when the witness makes a positive identification,
  • Race.

Many other states have been trying to figure out how to balance the witness' memory and recollection with external influences. One particular organization that works with wrongfully convicted people believes that this recent court decision will help to address some of the problems that can arise with witness accounts.

Imagine being charged and convicted of a crime you didn't commit simply because you look similar to the actual perpetrator, but a witness only partially remembers what the perpetrator looked like. Especially under stressful situations, recollections can be skewed or certain things amplified based on other sources of information.

Will this new decision reduce the risk of inaccurate witness accounts and reduce the number of individuals wrongfully accused of a crime?

Source: Reuters: "NJ decision on witness identification could have broad impact," Carlyn Kolker, Aug. 25, 2011.

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