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Experts May Now Analyze Witness Testimony in Criminal Cases

The Connecticut Supreme Court recently ruled on an important issue regarding eyewitness accounts of crimes. Learn more in the following article.
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    October 05, 2012 /24-7PressRelease/ -- The Connecticut Supreme Court recently upheld the criminal conviction of Brady Guilbert, who was found guilty in the shooting deaths of two New London residents in 2004. In sustaining the conviction, it also ruled on the ability for the defense to call experts to testify on the defendant's behalf to challenge eyewitness accounts.

At trial, Guilbert's defense wanted to call Charles A. Morgan III, a professor of psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine and an expert on eyewitness identifications. Dr. Morgan would have testified about how stress can alter a witness' memory of events, and that the eyewitness account (that Guilbert was the gunman) could be flawed. The trial court judge disallowed Dr. Morgan's testimony, ruling the jurors could use their "common knowledge" in deciding whether the witness' accounts were reliable.

While the Supreme Court ultimately ruled that jurors relied on additional information that would have led to Guilbert's conviction, it also found that defense attorneys should be allowed to call experts to challenge a witness' recollection.

Tom Ullman, the Chief Public Defender in the New Haven Judicial District, wished he could have challenged the lone eyewitness account that sent his client to prison. He explained to the Housatonic Times that most jurors believe witnesses who make confident declarations about what they saw, even though the witness could be completely wrong. He acknowledged that emotional factors, such as stress, adrenaline and biases could alter a person's recollection. "If you're under stress during a crime," he said, "you focus on other things, not necessarily the ID of the person committing the crime. An expert on witnesses can talk about that and about studies on memory."

A majority of wrongful convictions are based on mistaken eyewitness accounts. According to the Innocence Project, nearly 75 percent of convictions based on such accounts are overturned through DNA testing. On its website, the organization highlights a number of situations where alleged perpetrators are misidentified, including where:
- Witnesses substantially changed their description of a perpetrator (including key information such as height, weight and presence of facial hair) after they learned more about a particular suspect.
- Witnesses only made an identification after multiple photo arrays or lineups -- and then made hesitant identifications (saying they "thought" the person "might be" the perpetrator, for example), but at trial the jury was told the witnesses did not waver in identifying the suspect.

The advent of DNA evidence has helped in challenging (and at least limiting) misidentifications in criminal cases, but the court's ruling provides defense attorneys with another important tool to protect their clients. If you believe that you have been wrongfully charged with (or convicted of) a crime, an experienced criminal defense attorney can advise you.

Article provided by Kevin Smith, Attorney at Law
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