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NJ Supreme Court Explores the Reliability of Witness Identification

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Larry Henderson claims that Camden, NJ police influenced a witness’ identification of him as an accomplice in the shooting of Rodney Harper, for which Henderson was convicted in 2004. Now, the New Jersey Supreme Court will examine whether courts and law enforcement agencies should change the way they treat lineups and other identification procedures.

New Jersey is one of the few states that has statewide rules governing how lineups are to be conducted, and these rules have been in place for more than a decade. However, Henderson and his lawyers contend that these were not followed. They claim that the officer conducting the photo lineup moved photos around in a way that “nudged” the witness to choose Henderson’s picture. When this witness testified in front of the 2008 appellate panel that ultimately threw out Henderson’s conviction, he also stated that investigating officers – who are not permitted in the room during identification procedures – told him that his family would receive police protection if he cooperated.

The New Jersey State Supreme Court sent the matter to a special master, retired state appellate Judge Geoffrey Gaulkin. This June, Gaulkin issued an 86-page report urging police and courts to treat identifications in a more scientific manner, noting, as we have so often mentioned, the innumerable variables that can compromise the accuracy of eyewitness testimony. From this report, the Supreme Court could change the way that police departments and courts treat eyewitness identification.

Still, the state Attorney General’s Office contends that the laws that are already in place are sufficient and that the burden of proof is on the defense to show that the current system is flawed. The Innocence Project in New York has stated, however, that prosecutors need to better demonstrate that their identification methods are reliable.

Read More:
The Star-Ledger – Camden manslaughter case has N.J. Supreme Court questioning reliability of witness identifications
The Innocence Project – Understand the Causes: Eyewitness Misidentification
The Innocence Project – NJ Attorney General Guidelines for Preparing and Conducting Photo and Live
Lineup Identification Procedures

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