What do Texas and Connecticut have in common? No, New Englanders have not suddenly taken to wearing cowboy hats and boots. As of August 23, both states are among those recently moving toward better practices in handling eyewitness identification and testimony.
In my last post, I discussed how a new Texas requiring some science-based identification practices would take effect on September 1. This had, of course, happened in a state in which uncovering wrongful convictions seemed almost routine. Now, Connecticut’s Supreme Court has moved that state a little closer to the proper ways to use and think about eyewitness identification.
As reported in an article in the August 23 Hartford Courant, the state’s Supreme Court announced that based on the current state of science in eyewitness identification, it was throwing out old precedents and would now allow the defense to call an expert witness in any case in which eyewitness identification played a significant role. The expert’s testimony would be appropriately limited.
An expert should not be permitted to give an opinion about the credibility or accuracy of the eyewitness testimony itself; that determination is solely within the province of the jury. Rather, the expert should be permitted to testify only about factors that generally have an adverse effect on the reliability of eyewitness identifications and are relevant to the specific eyewitness identification at issue.
Basing its decision on what it called “a near perfect scientific consensus,” the court said that the research “convincingly demonstrates the fallibility of eyewitness identification testimony and pinpoints an array of variables that are most likely to lead to a mistaken identification.”
Allowing expert testimony does not mandate a change to police procedures, the way that Texas and some other jurisdictions, like New Jersey, have. But it is a step in the right direction.
Tell me again: why can’t other states and police departments do these things? Why do they continue to resist the science?