Tag Archive | Washington State

Eyewitness Identification across racial lines

Eyewitness Identification has come under scrutiny in the last few years, with studies and DNA proving many eyewitness testimony is wrong.

Courts are wrestling with how to ensure juries understand that the eyewitness testimony can be flawed, regardless how much the witness believes her or she is telling the truth.

The Supreme Court of Washington State ruled this week that trial courts can give juries instructions regarding the reliability of eyewitness accounts especially when the identification is of a person of a different race.

From the Seattle Post
“Summarizing problems with the state’s case also acknowledged in the lead opinion, dissenting Justice Charles Wiggins opined that prosecutors offered “barely any evidence corroborating the identification.”

Underlying it all is the basic problem that white witnesses are not very good at correctly identifying black suspects. The reverse is also true, as are the other iterations of cross-racial identification.

At trial, Allen’s defense attorney asked that among the directives given to the jury would be an instruction noting that cross-racial identifications are especially difficult. Both proposed instructions noted that the problem exists in circumstances where a witness is not prejudiced and has extensive experience with people of other races.  The judge declined to give such an instruction to the jury. Allen was ultimately convicted of felony harassment and sentenced to 14 months in prison.

This is the shocking part of the court’s ruling

Reviews of exonerations based on new DNA evidence show nearly 80 percent of wrongly convicted criminal defendants were found guilty because of faulty eyewitness identifications, according to studies cited by the dissenting justices. Forty percent of all DNA-based exonerations cases involved cross-racial identifications; nearly all of those – 36 percent of all exonerations – involved white witnesses misidentifying black defendants.