EYE WITNESS IDENTIFICATION

In Commonwealth v. Gomes,  the Supreme Judicial Court   announced important additions to the model jury instruction on eyewitness identification that has been in effect since the Court’s decision in Commonwealth v. Rodriguez, in 1979. This case is about an incident in which the victim’s face was slashed by an unknown man with a box cutter. The identity of the perpetrator was a central issue at trial. In his appeal, the defendant argued that the judge erred in instructing the jury pursuant to Rodriguez, rather than giving an instruction that the defendant requested, which would have informed the jury about various scientific principles regarding eyewitness identification vente generic viagra.  The SJC concluded that the judge did not abuse his discretion “by declining to instruct the jury about these principles where the defendant offered no expert testimony, scholarly articles, or treatises that established that the[] principles were ‘so generally accepted that … [their inclusion in] a standard jury instruction … would be appropriate.’”

Although it rejected the defendant’s claim, the Court went on to state: “[N]ow that we have the benefit of the Report and Recommendations of the Supreme Judicial Court Study Group on Eyewitness Evidence [], and the comments in response to it, we conclude that there are scientific principles regarding eyewitness identification that are ‘so generally accepted’ that it is appropriate in the future to instruct juries regarding these principles…. We include as an Appendix to this opinion a provisional jury instruction regarding eyewitness identification evidence, and we invite comments regarding its content and clarity before we declare it a model instruction. This provisional instruction should be given, where appropriate, in trials that commence after issuance of this opinion until a model instruction is issued.” The Court added that the “provisional instruction is not intended in any way to preclude expert testimony regarding eyewitness identification…. Expert testimony may be important to elaborate on the generally accepted principles in a model instruction and to explain how other variables relevant to the particular case can affect the accuracy of the identification. A judge may also allow an expert to challenge the generally accepted principles we incorporated, and, where the judge finds the expert’s challenge to be persuasive, the judge may modify the model instruction accordingly.”

The new scientific principles that the Court proposes to include in the revised model instruction are the following:  (1) “Human memory does not function like a video recording but is a complex process that consists of three stages: acquisition, retention, and retrieval.” (2) “An eyewitness’s expressed certainty in an identification, standing alone, may not indicate the accuracy of the identification, especially where the witness did not describe that level of certainty when the witness first made the identification.” (3) “High levels of stress can reduce an eyewitness’s ability to make an accurate identification.” (4) “Information that is unrelated to the initial viewing of the event, which an eyewitness receives before or after making an identification, can influence the witness’s later recollection of the memory or of the identification.” (5) “A prior viewing of a suspect at an identification procedure may reduce the reliability of a subsequent identification procedure in which the same suspect is shown.”

 

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