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Eyewitness identification at issue in Supreme Court case

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court of the United States issued an opinion stating that the U.S. Constitution did not require additional safeguards into the reliability of an eyewitness. The ruling comes at a time when many police procedures regarding eyewitnesses have come under fire for reportedly causing hundreds of wrongful convictions for drug charges, sex crimes, and a variety of other offenses in Roseville and throughout the country.

The case was brought by a man who had been charged with theft for allegedly breaking into a car parked in front of an apartment building in 2008. The prosecuting attorneys' case against the man included testimony from an "eyewitness" who lived in an apartment on the fourth floor.

She told police that she saw a "tall black man" take items from the car, but could provide no additional details. She was also unable to pick the defendant out of a photo lineup.

The man's criminal defense lawyer argued that the witness should not have been able to testify at trial because her testimony was not credible. The judge presiding over the case did not agree, and allowed the witness to testify. The man was convicted and sentenced to three to 10 years in jail.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the judge's decision, ruling that the U.S. Constitution's protection against due process does not require any sort of judicial inquiry into an eyewitness' reliability unless there is some indication that the police were improperly suggestive or otherwise misbehaved.

Recently, researchers found that 190 of the first 250 people to be exonerated by DNA evidence had been wrongfully convicted in large part because of eyewitness testimony. It is too bad that the court system still places such a large weight on eyewitnesses, despite repeated proof that they are often incorrect.

Source: Reuters, "Supreme Court rejects special review of eyewitness testimony," James Vicini, Jan. 11, 2012

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