Circuit establishes task force on eyewitness identifications

The Third Circuit announced this afternoon that it has created the Third Circuit Task Force on Eyewitness Identifications. The order creating the task force was signed by Chief Judge McKee. The task force will:

make recommendations regarding jury instructions, use of expert
testimony, and other procedures and policies intended to promote reliable practices
for eyewitness identification and to effectively deter unnecessarily suggestive
identification procedures, which raise the risk of a wrongful conviction.

* * *

In order to discharge its responsibilities, the Task Force shall study the
available research pertaining to best practices for criminal investigations and
courtroom procedures, including without limitation: protocols for obtaining
identifications, expert testimony during trial, jury instructions, and any other area
pertaining to eyewitness identifications and testimony that can minimize the risk of
wrongful convictions.

The task force will issue a final report within 9 months, unless extended. The report will then be distributed to the district judges within the circuit.

The task force is comprised of 17 members: 4 CA3 judges (McKee, Smith, Shwartz, Restrepo), 6 district judges, a magistrate judge, a federal defender, a US Attorney, an FBI agent, a state AG, and two academics. McKee and EDPA Judge Goldberg are the co-chairs.

The announcement comes just weeks after the court’s en banc ruling in Dennis v. Secretary, in which the court affirmed habeas relief in a capital case and Chief Judge McKee wrote an extraordinary 54-page concurrence to “underscore the problems inherent in eyewitness testimony.”

UPDATE: the Court posted this press release, too.

3 thoughts on “Circuit establishes task force on eyewitness identifications

  1. John

    This doesn’t seem to me to be something that an intermediate appellate court should be doing. Writing jury instructions? Sure. Everything else? Seems like it should be handled by Congress or the Supreme Court.

  2. Matthew Stiegler Post author

    Do you feel the same about the task force Chief Judge Becker convened in 2002 to report on class counsel selection? The 1999 Second Circuit task force on gender, racial, and ethnic fairness in the courts? And I’m not clear why this sort of thing would be okay for the Supreme Court to do but not a circuit court.

  3. Andrew

    I will be very interested to see what comes of this task force. Eyewitness testimony is relatively unreliable and there are plenty of studies that reveal the ease with which people can develop fake memories, misidentify people of different races, and develop confidence in something after initially being very unsure. All of those are problematic for eyewitness testimony.

    I’ll be curious to see how the panel balances that against the fact that without eyewitness testimony some guilty people would go free. Are we going to see an emphasis on the unreliability or an emphasis on procedure?

    Interesting times in the Third Circuit.

Comments are closed.