Jury trials, Expert witnesses

On January 22, 2016 the Illinois Supreme Court delivered its’ opinion in People of Illinois v. Eduardo Lerma, 2016 IL 118496. In it the Court ruled that, in appropriate cases, the Defendant may present an expert witness to inform the jury of the difficulties an eyewitness will encounter trying while to make an observation that leads to an accurate identification. This is a special opinion because it finally recognizes the inherent problems associated with eyewitness identifications. Because “advances in DNA testing have confirmed that eyewitness misidentification is now the single greatest source of wrongful convictions in the United States, and responsible for more wrongful convictions than all other causes combined” the Court concludes that these findings “are now widely accepted by scientists, but are largely unfamiliar to the average person”. Therefore, the jury can now hear from an expert witness who can explain why. The Court basically accepted the Defendant’s argument that the “witness level of confidence does not necessarily correlate to the accuracy of the identification. That numerous factors can undermine the accuracy of an eyewitness’s identification, including the stress of the vent itself, the presence of a weapon, the passage of time, the ‘forgetting curve’, the wearing of partial disguises such as hoods, exposure to post-event information, nighttime viewing and suggestive police identification procedures; that eyewitnesses tend to overestimate time frames; and that cross-racial identifications tend to be less reliable than same race identifications.”

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