Misidentification by eyewitnesses still happens in NJ but much less thanks to changes in our law. I have successfully challenged witness identifications and carefully examine them in every case, but since NJ changed the law regarding identification procedures seven years ago in the case of State v. Henderson, challenges are much less necessary. Since that case, law enforcement is required to show one photo at a time instead of an array and it is a blind administration, meaning the officer showing the photos knows nothing about the case and therefore cannot influence the identification.
I have seen significant changes since these changes. Eyewitness identification is never the sole piece of evidence, and rarely even the primary piece. The system is better for it, but it still exists and should be examined and investigated with the utmost caution.
From Philly.com Article by Jonathan Lai & Mensah M. Dean:
“The face of an attacker should be seared into memory forever. How could you forget the person who raped, stabbed, or shot you?
Or so crime victims — and, often, jurors — believe.
But as scientists and criminologists have documented, memory is often an unreliable resource, especially when the attacker and the victim are of different races. And advances in DNA analysis in the last 30 years that have brought a harvest of exonerations have underscored the pitfalls of overreliance on eyewitness testimony.
Misidentifications can be reduced, and New Jersey led the way when it reformed police procedures 16 years ago. That was spurred by cases such as that of David Shephard, who spent more than a decade in prison after being convicted of rape and robbery.
But most states, including Pennsylvania, have been slow to follow New Jersey’s lead. And accusations can cast a long shadow.
Just ask Shawn Yarbray, who was acquitted by a jury last week after being charged with the May 2017 attack on Philadelphia City Councilman David Oh. Even after the acquittal, Oh remains convinced that Yarbray was the man who stabbed him in the ribs and slashed one of his arms. Oh continues to publicly accuse Yarbray of the attack.
Or ask Robert Williams, who spent three years in jail waiting to be tried for a Germantown corner-store robbery and assault before being acquitted in February by a jury that deliberated for just 73 minutes. Paranoia stays with Williams, who has since found work with a food-delivery company and is making plans to go to divinity school.
“It’s scary, because I never know when the police may be at my door,” he said. “They took me from my family, it was traumatic.” At the time of his arrest, Williams had a 2-year-old son and a pregnant wife. The family had bought a home in Strawberry Mansion. “There’s always a chance the police are upset about the verdict, and they may come and try to pin something else on me.”
Shephard expressed similar anxieties. DNA evidence eventually cleared him, but the time locked up disrupted his life, and the psychological and emotional toll persists.
“You never move past it,” he said.
Besides the personality changes — Shephard is quicker to anger, less trusting — he fears being falsely accused again. He dislikes going out alone, wanting a witness with him at all times. It took him more than a year to stop collecting bus receipts every time he went out, adding them to the box under his bed in case he might have to verify an alibi.”
If you or someone you know needs legal assistance related to eyewitness misidentification contact the experts at Dash Farrow LLP today. Consultations are free and confidential.
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