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Old 08-30-2011, 07:29 AM
 
9,181 posts, read 9,265,199 times
Reputation: 28754

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I first became acquainted with the seriousness of this problem while I was working in the Attorney General's Office in my state. I had a job where I was required to write appellate briefs for the state when convicted people appealed their convictions and sentences.

A fellow I will call "Smith" was convicted of armed robbery and sent to prison for 5 to 10 years. The only evidence against Smith was an eyewitness identification by a gas station attendant. The attendant had never met Smith before. He had had a limited opportunity to observe him. The entire interaction between the attendant and the bandit had lasted maybe thirty seconds. The robbery had taken place at night and there were legitimate questions to be raised about well anyone could have seen the bandit.

When the state presented it case against Smith, he claimed it was a mistaken identification and offered an alibi. The gas station attendant was a very scrupulous man and stated he could not identify Smith at the trial. What got Smith convicted was that earlier, the attendant had identified him from a photo given to him by the police. A police officer testified at trial that Smith (who was on trial) was the same man who was pictured in the photograph.

My job was to represent the state--which I did. I wrote my brief and Smith's conviction was affirmed.

I have found myself waking up at night on a couple of occasions asking myself if Smith was really guilty. If not, a big chunk of his life was taken away unjustly. I have wondered if eyewitness testimony should be scrutinized more carefully. I have wondered if jurors should be much more slow to convict in such cases--where this is the only evidence of guilt.

What can be done to help insure that those convicted on the basis of eyewitness testimony are truly guilty?
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Old 08-30-2011, 09:52 AM
 
48,516 posts, read 83,890,268 times
Reputation: 18049
I have to say I really doubt you worked in any state attorney generals office in relation to testimony. Otherwsie you would know the basic principal of the right of a defendant to confront the accuser in court and the judges duty to instruct the jury on such tetmony as the police officer's. Everyday cases are dismissed on such probelm with witness recanting their testimony in court from earlier statements. The first thing in such a case the defense would do is ask for dismissal.Your askig us to beleive that a judge;at elast two officer of the court plus now yourself; ingore their duty to the justice system, Bit of a stretch.
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Old 08-30-2011, 10:55 AM
 
Location: Dublin, CA
3,813 posts, read 3,655,959 times
Reputation: 3967
Quote:
Originally Posted by texdav View Post
I have to say I really doubt you worked in any state attorney generals office in relation to testimony. Otherwsie you would know the basic principal of the right of a defendant to confront the accuser in court and the judges duty to instruct the jury on such tetmony as the police officer's. Everyday cases are dismissed on such probelm with witness recanting their testimony in court from earlier statements. The first thing in such a case the defense would do is ask for dismissal.Your askig us to beleive that a judge;at elast two officer of the court plus now yourself; ingore their duty to the justice system, Bit of a stretch.
Actually you are wrong. Dead wrong. People get convicted of crimes all the time based upon eye witness testimony alone.

Eye witness testimony is the least reliable evidence there is. But, to MOST people, sitting in the jury box, it's very strong and compelling evidence.

I've personally sent many people to prison, based upon my eyewitness testimony alone.
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Old 08-30-2011, 04:51 PM
 
9,523 posts, read 4,865,520 times
Reputation: 3870
Quote:
Originally Posted by markg91359 View Post
I first became acquainted with the seriousness of this problem while I was working in the Attorney General's Office in my state. I had a job where I was required to write appellate briefs for the state when convicted people appealed their convictions and sentences.

A fellow I will call "Smith" was convicted of armed robbery and sent to prison for 5 to 10 years. The only evidence against Smith was an eyewitness identification by a gas station attendant. The attendant had never met Smith before. He had had a limited opportunity to observe him. The entire interaction between the attendant and the bandit had lasted maybe thirty seconds. The robbery had taken place at night and there were legitimate questions to be raised about well anyone could have seen the bandit.

When the state presented it case against Smith, he claimed it was a mistaken identification and offered an alibi. The gas station attendant was a very scrupulous man and stated he could not identify Smith at the trial. What got Smith convicted was that earlier, the attendant had identified him from a photo given to him by the police. A police officer testified at trial that Smith (who was on trial) was the same man who was pictured in the photograph.

My job was to represent the state--which I did. I wrote my brief and Smith's conviction was affirmed.

I have found myself waking up at night on a couple of occasions asking myself if Smith was really guilty. If not, a big chunk of his life was taken away unjustly. I have wondered if eyewitness testimony should be scrutinized more carefully. I have wondered if jurors should be much more slow to convict in such cases--where this is the only evidence of guilt.

What can be done to help insure that those convicted on the basis of eyewitness testimony are truly guilty?
I don't want to sound emotional or irrational, but convicting based on a recanted ID is bad. That was the only evidence ?

Is there a jury instruction re eyewitness testimony. Especially when eyewitness testimony is a substantial part of the case, a special instruction could be drawn.
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Old 08-31-2011, 11:27 AM
 
Location: FL
1,716 posts, read 2,623,644 times
Reputation: 1852
Did this "Smith" have a Public Defender or defense attorney? My goodness if the officer handed the victim him 1 or 2 or even 5 photos of suspects, that's wrong IMO.

No different than putting a bunch of 5' 4" tall suspects in a lineup with one 6' 2" suspect when the alleged suspect was over 6" tall by description.
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Old 08-31-2011, 09:23 PM
 
Location: Atlantis
3,017 posts, read 3,265,887 times
Reputation: 8824
Mark,

Thanks for talking about this subject and that particular case. You probably have heard about the Innocence Project and their work with DNA and cases involving false eye witness testimony. If you have lost sleep over that case then you at least have a conscience. Most prosecutors do not, and that is part of the problem with the system.
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Old 08-31-2011, 09:49 PM
 
Location: Dublin, CA
3,813 posts, read 3,655,959 times
Reputation: 3967
Quote:
Originally Posted by Skydive Outlaw View Post
Mark,

Thanks for talking about this subject and that particular case. You probably have heard about the Innocence Project and their work with DNA and cases involving false eye witness testimony. If you have lost sleep over that case then you at least have a conscience. Most prosecutors do not, and that is part of the problem with the system.
Again, in general, a false pretense. Prosecutors on the whole, are presented with gathered facts. INCLUDING eye witness testimony. John Smith is adamant Joe Dirtbag committed the murder. And there are 6 other witnesses to back up John Smith's claim. Not too mention, Joe Dirtbag was at the scene of the murder and had a reason to murder John Smith.

Now, how is that prosecuter part of the problem? He/she took a set of facts, analyzed them, and came to the conclusion Joe Dirtbag committed the crime. Even IF, later it is proved, someone else committed the crime, the prosecuter isn't at fault.

NOW, the cases where there is some sort of misconduct, et al. Ok. I agree with you. However, MOST prosecutor's are very strict, very narrow, and hardly charge ANYTHING.

I've personally taken cases to DA's and argued, sometimes heatedly, my case and the DA has REFUSED to charge the case. They DO NOT allow their emotions to take over and decide what to charge and what not too. IN GENERAL, if they cannot prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, in court, X committed the crime, NO MATTER WHAT, their personal opinions are, they do not prosecute the case.
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Old 09-01-2011, 05:47 AM
 
9,523 posts, read 4,865,520 times
Reputation: 3870
Quote:
Originally Posted by Phil306 View Post
Again, in general, a false pretense. Prosecutors on the whole, are presented with gathered facts. INCLUDING eye witness testimony. John Smith is adamant Joe Dirtbag committed the murder. And there are 6 other witnesses to back up John Smith's claim. Not too mention, Joe Dirtbag was at the scene of the murder and had a reason to murder John Smith.

Now, how is that prosecuter part of the problem? He/she took a set of facts, analyzed them, and came to the conclusion Joe Dirtbag committed the crime. Even IF, later it is proved, someone else committed the crime, the prosecuter isn't at fault.

NOW, the cases where there is some sort of misconduct, et al. Ok. I agree with you. However, MOST prosecutor's are very strict, very narrow, and hardly charge ANYTHING.

I've personally taken cases to DA's and argued, sometimes heatedly, my case and the DA has REFUSED to charge the case. They DO NOT allow their emotions to take over and decide what to charge and what not too. IN GENERAL, if they cannot prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, in court, X committed the crime, NO MATTER WHAT, their personal opinions are, they do not prosecute the case.
Prosecutors Know how unreliable eyewitness testimony can be. In General, they don't care. If anything can help get a conviction or plea, they'll use it, In General. Same with jailhouse snitches.
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