Oregon Supreme Court Protects Suspects
November 29, 2012 saw the Oregon Supreme Court make a very important decision about eye-witness identification evidence. In State v. Lawson, the Oregon Supreme Court got rid of the current way that eye-witness identification evidence is allowed in during a trial.
The Court noted that the reliability of eye-witness identification evidence has been attacked around the country and has been the subject of many recent studies showing that this evidence should not be trusted without the right protection. The attacks are supported by the number of times that an eye-witness has been wrong when identifying the defendant at trial. In fact, The Innocence Project, an organization that helps get innocent people out of jail, has found that almost three-fourths of the people they help were convicted based on misidentification.
The Court found that the problem with this evidence is that witnesses often forget what they first saw, or didn’t see, and then the police use their strategies to lead the witness to the person the police think is the suspect.
What happens is that a person spots a crime, and sees the person who did it, or sees a part of a person who they think did it. Then, the police show pictures to the witness or have the witness view a “line-up.” If the witness does not remember who they saw or only saw part of the person, the police will often lead the witness to make an identification based on who the police think is the suspect. Then, the witness comes to court and points out the defendant as the person they saw, based in part on the tactics used by the police. It is this problem that makes this evidence untrustworthy.
Now, in order to use this evidence at trial, the government or the defendant (whichever side wants to use the evidence) must go through detailed procedures to prove that this evidence is reliable and accurate. This is a big change from the way things were done. Many states around the country have said that this evidence is very questionable, and Oregon now joins them.