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During the same week that the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision to leave eyewitness identification analysis alone, the high court threw out a murder conviction because prosecutors did not disclose that an eyewitness who testified against the defendant at trial initially told police that he could not identify the killer. For nearly 50 years, prosecutors have known that the Constitution requires that the state must turn over material evidence that prosecutors have that may be favorable to the criminal defense.

In overturning the criminal conviction, Chief Justice John Roberts writes, "We have observed that evidence impeaching an eyewitness may not be material if the state's other evidence is strong enough to sustain confidence in the verdict." Eight justices on the Supreme Court agreed in Tuesday's ruling that the prosecutor's failure to disclose the evidence in the murder case violated the defendant's rights, requiring a reversal of the conviction. Justice Clarence Thomas was alone in dissent.

The case arose from allegations surrounding a 1995 shooting. Five people were killed during an armed robbery in a New Orleans home. During the trial, an eyewitness told the jury that he had been "face to face with [the defendant] during the initial moments of the robbery." The Supreme Court says that testimony was the only evidence the prosecutors had linking the defendant to the crime.

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After she made the identification of the hand-cuffed man, law enforcement brought the woman to the police station to look at a photo-lineup. She could not identify the man. Nonetheless, the man was convicted of theft charges and sentenced prison on the East Coast. The identification procedure used was the focus of a recent U.S. Supreme Court case.

The issue of unduly suggestive police identification procedures has been argued in court rooms and law schools all across the country for years. Over the past 30 years roughly 2,000 studies have been conducted on the issue. This blog discussed the eyewitness identification issues in last August.

One law professor writes in his book, "Convicting the Innocent," that of the first 250 people who were exonerated by DNA testing after being wrongfully convicted, as many as 190 were convicted through the testimony of a mistaken eyewitness identification.

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The United States Supreme Court has not taken a hard look at the reliability of eyewitness testimony since 1977. The Court has agreed to revisit the issue in November. Since the time the issue was before the Court, more than 2,000 studies have been published in professional journals regarding the reliability, or lack of reliability, concerning eyewitness identifications. The nation's highest court previously ruled that judges can exclude some eyewitness identifications if the testimony is unreliable.

The difficulty with the current state of the law on the subject is highlighted by the number of wrongful convictions that have been obtained based upon mistaken identity. Criminal defense attorneys in California and across the country have regularly argued and researchers have compiled a long list of studies indicating that of the roughly 75,000 eyewitness identifications used in the country each year, about one-third are simply wrong.

Research shows that eyewitness identifications can lead to wrongful convictions. Many wrongfully convicted defendants have been exonerated by DNA analysis across the country. Of the first 250 exonerations, researchers say 190 cases involved the mistaken testimony of an eyewitness. Witnesses on those cases reportedly were certain they had identified the right person. One was "120 percent sure," reports the New York Times. Another witness had absolutely no question the wrongfully convicted defendant was involved.

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