United States Supreme Court recent decision on eyewitness identification
The United States Supreme Court recently limited the ability for defendant’s to successfully challenge a suggestive or unreliable identification in Perry v. New Hampshire , ___ U.S._____, (Slip Opinion 10-8974), January 11, 2012. In an opinion written by Justice Ginsburg, the Court listed some of the guarantees of a fair trial, “the right to counsel, compulsory process to obtain defense witnesses, and the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses for the prosecution.” The Court further stated that admission of evidence in a state trial is generally dictated by state law and that the “reliability of relevant testimony typically falls within the province of the jury to determine.”
The Court opined, however, that additionally , due process provides a check on the admission of eyewitness identification but only when the police arrange suggestive circumstances leading a witness to identify a particular person as the person who committed a crime.
The Court addressed a long line of cases dealing with suggestive and unreliable identifications and specifically held that when no improper law enforcement activity is involved, it is sufficient to test reliability of identification testimony through presence of counsel at post-indictment lineups, cross examination of witnesses, protective rules of evidence, jury instructions on the fallibility of eyewitness identification and the requirement that guilt be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The Court stated that its unwillingness to enlarge the domain of due process challenges on eyewitness identifications was in large part due to the fact that a jury, not a judge, would traditionally determine the reliability of evidence. The Court, therefore, decided that police misconduct would trigger pre-trial due process concerns.