NY Reverses Murder Conviction For Refusing to Allow Eyewitness ID Expert to Testify

Good news from New York. An appeals court has reversed a murder conviction because the Judge refused to allow an expert is eyewitness identification to testify. The 13 page opinion is here.

The holding:

For the reasons that follow, we hold that where the case turns on the accuracy of eyewitness identifications and there is little or no corroborating evidence connecting the defendant to the crime, it is an abuse of discretion for a trial court to exclude expert testimony on the reliability of eyewitness identifications if that testimony is (1) relevant to the witness's identification of defendant, (2) based on principles that are generally accepted within the relevant scientific community, (3) proffered by a qualified expert and (4) on a topic beyond the ken of the average juror. Taking into account that trial courts generally have the power to limit the amount and scope of evidence presented, we nevertheless conclude that, in this case, the court erred when it precluded the testimony of defendant's eyewitness identification expert in its entirety.

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    Good decision (none / 0) (#1)
    by rb6 on Tue Mar 27, 2007 at 12:22:39 PM EST
    Eyewitness identification is shockingly inaccurate.  Most people assume that it would be more accurate in high stress situations when, in fact, research shows that the opposite is often true:  people who witness a crime are less likely to be looking directly at the face of the perpetrator, and more likely to be distracted by, for instance, a weapon, looking for a way out, or trying to protect their children.  Then there's the whole issue of cross racial identification, focusing on potentially extraneous or changeable traits like mustaches or glasses and so on.

    Expert testimony (none / 0) (#2)
    by Tom in AZ on Tue Mar 27, 2007 at 12:31:01 PM EST
    Do you think we'll see a variation of this in the Libbey appeal re memory defense?

    I've always thought (none / 0) (#3)
    by Jeralyn on Tue Mar 27, 2007 at 12:35:49 PM EST
    it was one of Libby's stronger arguments on appeal.  The Judge, in my opinion, should have allowed the expert to testify.

    you may be right, but I think Judge Walton (none / 0) (#4)
    by scribe on Tue Mar 27, 2007 at 01:14:36 PM EST
    was right in not allowing that proposed expert to testify, given the ginsu-job Fitz' cross did on her.  When she forgot Fitz - after he had previously cross-examined her to the nth degree - she showed herself to be "not a help to the jury to understand a fact in issue".  So, I think Walton did not abuse his broad discretion in refusing to allow her to testify.

    IMHO, that's what it comes down to - abuse of discretion - and it's easy for Walton to survive that.

    Moreover, IMHO if it was error to not admit the proposed expert's testimony, I think given the depth of other inculpatory evidence (all those people saying "not-X" to Scooter's "X"), it's pretty likely it's going to be harmless error.  In other words, the "proven to be thoroughly guilty" affirmance.


    Innocence projects (none / 0) (#5)
    by diogenes on Tue Mar 27, 2007 at 05:10:20 PM EST
    Newsday today in it's story says that Legrand was first picked up 2 years after the murder after he was arrested for burglary but released because the witnesses weren't around.  Then in 1998 he was arrested for burglary again but this time some witnesses ID'ed him.  Maybe he's guilty.  Maybe, like lots of people I see in jail, he's in jail for something he didn't do but never got caught for what he did do.
    This case might be good for innocence projects and Scooter Libby, but I remember how Steven Avery was just sentenced to life after being cut loose by an innocence project (see Wikipedia) and murdering someone else.