A few weeks ago, we wrote about a Florida armed-robbery trial that was set to include special jury instruction regarding eyewitness identification. Now, prosecutors wish to block a measure that could influence public opinion about the accuracy of eyewitness identification not only in this trial but in all cases in which eyewitness testimony plays a part.
Karl Weeden, attorney for robbery suspect Markis Smith, successfully argued for special jury instruction that would have jurors consider the accuracy of eyewitness testimony and whether the witness had “adequate opportunity” and the “capacity” to properly identify the perpetrator. Orange Circuit Judge Walter Komanski’s 23-page order allowing this measure drew attention and interest from attorneys both in Florida and outside of the state, as it acknowledges the high potential for error in eyewitness identifications and may help to prevent false convictions.
Prosecutors plan to appeal the decision, however, arguing that standard jury instructions are sufficient in the Smith case. It’s been shown over and over, though, that eyewitness error is one of the main causes of wrongful convictions in cases where individuals have later been exonerated by DNA evidence. In Smith’s case, the main eyewitness is the victim, who saw the perpetrator for less than ten seconds. When she testifies, it will have been nearly two years since the robbery. The more time that passes between an incident and an identification, the more room for error. Prosecutors should be concerned above all with being sure that justice is served. It’s impossible to ignore the number of false convictions that have resulted from eyewitness error – in this case as well as so many others, the prosecution might be better served by accepting a measure that can keep innocent people from spending time in prison for crimes they didn’t commit.