The Florida Supreme Court adopted new jury instructions that are designed to help jurors evaluate eyewitness identification testimony. The instructions are read to a jury after they've heard all of the evidence and just before they go to the jury room for deliberations. This signifies the Court's recognition of the complexity surrounding eyewitness testimony and the need to debunk the myth that eyewitness testimony is infallible.
The new rule informs jurors to consider several factors when evaluating eyewitness identification testimony. Some of them are common sense factors and ask jurors to consider questions like:
- Was the witness close enough to identify the subject?
- Was there good lighting when the witness observed the subject?
- Did the witness know the subject beforehand?
- Was there ample time to observe the subject?
- Was the identification made soon after the observation?
In addition, jurors are required to consider less obvious factors. For example, cultural factors should be considered--suggesting that the Court accepts the studies that conclude it is more difficult for someone to correctly identify someone of another race.
And finally, the jurors should consider any police conduct that may have influenced an out-of-court identification. Jurors should ask themselves: Did the officers suggest who the subject was? What were the circumstances under which the suspect was shown to the witness? Did the witness fail to identify the subject at any point?
Overall, these instructions suggest that science is proving persuasive in our criminal justice system, and that eyewitness testimony is not as bulletproof as our society once thought.
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