Eyewitness Identification Procedures (Part 1)

by | May 20, 2019 | Blog, Criminal Law, Legal Procedures, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

On March 13, 2019, the New Jersey Supreme court decided the Essex County case of State v. Ibnmauric Anthony. The principal issue involved the required procedures surrounding eyewitness identifications and the remedies for failures to follow the procedures. Chief Justice Rabner wrote for a 6-1 majority, with Justice Albin filing a dissent.

The Chief Justice held in relevant part as follows: This appeal raises issues about the process law enforcement officers must follow when they ask eyewitnesses to try to identify a suspect.  Specifically, this appeal poses questions about the precise meaning and scope of Rule 3:11 as well as the proper remedies when State v. Delgado, 188 N.J. 48, 63 (2006), and the Rule are violated.

Today’s ruling addresses the following points:  (1) it clarifies Rule 3:11 and emphasizes that law enforcement officers are to record identification procedures electronically, preferably by video, if feasible; (2) it requires officers to document their reasons for not recording an identification procedure electronically or preparing a contemporaneous, verbatim written account of the process; (3) it modifies State v. Henderson, 208 N.J. 208 (2011), and holds that defendants are entitled to a pretrial hearing on the admissibility of a witness’ identification when no electronic or contemporaneous, verbatim written recording of the identification procedure is prepared, even without evidence of suggestiveness on the part of law enforcement; and (4) it proposes a change to the model jury charge for use when Delgado and Rule 3:11 are not followed.

False identifications are the leading cause of wrongful conviction in cases of DNA exoneration. A major reason for this is that many people honestly, but mistakenly mis-identify suspects for a variety of reasons. An honest, but mistaken belief is difficult to expose through cross-examination because the witnesses’ demeanor does not betray them like it does in cases of uncertainty or intentional false testimony.