Witness Identification Must Be Scrutinized in Jacksonville Felony Crimes

We’ve seen it a million times in real-life criminal cases that make national and even local headlines — witnesses whose testimony contradicts the facts or leaves them looking less-than-reliable on the witness stand.

In New Jersey, the Supreme Court has seen it enough and has enacted changes to the criminal justice system that may soon become precedent for other states to follow. Jacksonville criminal defense attorneys hope Florida’s Supreme Court is listening.Far too many times prosecutors rely on weak eye witnesses in the pursuit of putting people in prison for life on charges of murder in Jacksonville or other felonies that can lead to decades or life in prison and even the death penalty.

As many news sources in recent weeks reported, Troy Davis, a Georgia man sentenced to death for the killing of an off-duty Savannah police officer, had many witnesses recant or change their testimony, leading to much doubt about whether he was responsible for the crime. Yet, in an act lacking mercy, officials executed him anyway, despite pleas from protesters and influential people, including the Pope and Jimmy Carter.

That’s how important the issue of eye witness identification is in felony cases. With poor witnesses, the state can’t secure a conviction. With a spot-on witness, it may go the other way. Make or break. Life and death.

In New Jersey, The New York Times reports, the “troubling lack of reliability” in witness identification has caused justices there to create a special hearing for witnesses if defense attorneys there bring up an issue about the credibility of the witness in a criminal case.

At the hearing, the defense can bring up a broad range of issues, including potential police influence, such as nudging a person to select a mug shot from a photo lineup, to the time of day it was, how far away the person was and whether the witness was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time.

Even if disputed evidence is submitted and admitted into trial, the judge must explain to jurors, even in the middle of the trial, that witnesses can be influenced by outside factors that can lead to misidentification. In the past, judges held hearings, but they were must less detailed.

New Jersey. Justices wrote that it is the “leading cause of wrongful convictions across the country.”

These are strong words, but true. State prosecutors often trot out less-than-credible, barely-saw-anything witnesses that they hinge their cases on. Whether it’s a minor theft to a murder, if a witness isn’t credible, he or she shouldn’t be used. But jurors inherently trust these people and convict defendants anyway. It’s a broken system that needs fixing.

The Forbess Law Firm has been aiding clients who face criminal charges in Jacksonville for more than a decade and is here to provide aggressive criminal defense to anyone accused of a crime. If you or a loved one requires a Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer, contact our firm today. We are available through our website or by calling us at 904-634-0900.

More Blog Entries:

Jacksonville Man Charged in Mass Shooting: September 22, 2011
Additional Resources:

In New Jersey, Rules Are Changed on Witness IDs, by Benjamin Weiser, The New York Times

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