By Melanie Wilmoth
I recently had the opportunity to attend a book club hosted by CitySquare in Dallas. At this event, we discussed the book, Tested: How Twelve Wrongly Imprisoned Men Held onto Hope by Peyton and Dorothy Budd. Their book tells the stories of twelve men who were imprisoned for crimes they did not commit. As a result of DNA testing and the introduction of new evidence, these men were recently exonerated. Unfortunately, by the time of exoneration, many of these men had spent 5, 10, or even 20 years in prison.
Although Dallas leads the nation in DNA exonerations, wrongful convictions are a problem throughout the US.
It was simply a fluke that over the decades Dallas happened to save and store the evidence needed to run DNA tests. In most cities, such physical evidence was destroyed long ago…This is not just a Dallas problem…Across the nation thousands upon thousands of innocent people are in prison for crimes they did not commit.” – Dorothy Budd
The majority of these wrongful convictions are a result of faulty eyewitness identification. Despite the fact that this type of testimony is unreliable, prosecutors across the nation continue to rely on eyewitnesses.
However, new rules issued by the New Jersey Supreme Court will affect how eyewitness testimony is used in the courts. These rules require more rigorous evaluation of eyewitness identifications and make it easier for defendants to challenge eyewitness testimony. Criminal justice reform advocates are hopeful that these new rules will significantly reduce the number of wrongful convictions and that other states will soon follow in New Jersey’s lead.
By Benjamin Weiser
The New Jersey Supreme Court, acknowledging a “troubling lack of reliability in eyewitness identifications,” issued sweeping new rules on Wednesday making it easier for defendants to challenge such evidence in criminal cases.
The court said that whenever a defendant presents evidence that a witness’s identification of a suspect was influenced, by the police, for instance, a judge must hold a hearing to consider a broad range of issues. These could include police behavior, but also factors like lighting, the time that had elapsed since the crime or whether the victim felt stress at the time of the identification. (more…)