What Are the Grounds for the Suppression of an Eyewitness Identification?
Eyewitness testimony has long been considered among the most powerful pieces of evidence that can be presented in a criminal trial. Eyewitnesses, sworn to honesty on the stand, are generally afforded much credibility by the jury. However, several studies have raised alarming questions as to the true accuracy of human memory. When faced with the potential testimony of an eyewitness, there are several grounds on which a New York criminal defense lawyer may challenge the identification.
Questioning the Reliability of Eyewitness Identification
While an eyewitness, someone who was there at the scene of the crime, may on the surface appear to be the most reliable sort of witness, statistics show otherwise. Eyewitnesses are plagued by memory issues and identification shortcomings, which are exemplified when the ID is a cross-racial one. The Innocence Project reports that of the over 330 exonerations they have achieved through DNA testing, 72 percent involved mistaken eyewitness identification.
There are several factors that can lead to mistaken eyewitness identifications. Relevant factors include:
- Conditions affecting the witness’ visibility, such as poor lighting or vision impairment;
- The eyewitness’ level of stress or trauma at the time of the incident;
- The distance between the witness and the perpetrator;
- The presence or absence of a threat, such as a weapon pointed at the eyewitness.
In addition to errors with the eyewitness’ memory of the events, eyewitness identifications can be tainted through improper lineup or photo array proceedings.
Grounds for Challenging the Eyewitness Identification
If questions exist regarding the reliability of the ID or the procedure that lead to it, your criminal defense attorney will seek to have the eyewitness testimony excluded from the trial. Exclusion of the ID could mean the end of the case for some defendants. Potential grounds upon which a criminal defense lawyer can challenge an identification include:
- Exposing bias: If animosity existed between the witness and the defendant, it could lead to a false identification.
- Challenging the witness’ memory: If time passed between the ID and the incident, it could create questions as to the witness’ memory. Further, evidence that the eyewitness was under tremendous stress could mar the reliability of the ID.
- Questioning the witness’ vision: Poor lighting, obstacles in the way, vision problems, or clothing items concealing the victim’s face could all limit the witness’ true ability to ID the suspect.
- Challenging the lineup or photo array: Case law requires law enforcement officers follow stringent procedures when conducting a lineup or photo array. If the suspect was included in a lineup with suspects that clearly did not resemble him or her, or if evidence exists that the officer conducting a photo array made suggestions to the eyewitness, the ID should be suppressed.