HOW RELIABLE IS EYEWITNESS TESTIMONY? Illinois Courts were originally cautious about allowing experts to testify about the reliability of eyewitness testimony. But as a recent Illinois Supreme Court case noted “advances in DNA testing have confirmed that ‘eyewitness misidentification is now the single greatest source of wrongful convictions in the United States, and responsible for more wrongful convictions than all other causes combined.’”
In People v Lerma, the defendant was convicted of murder solely on the basis of eyewitness testimony. The trial court rejected defense requests to allow experts to testify about the reliability of that testimony. The trial court believed that since the eyewitnesses already knew defendant, they were less likely to misidentify someone they already knew.
The Illinois Supreme Court rejected the trial court’s reasoning, stating “This is the type of case for which expert eyewitness testimony is both relevant and appropriate.” The state had no physical evidence or confession.
In the past, Illinois courts were concerend about the overuse of expert testimony, However, the Lerma court noted there had been “a dramatic shift in the legal landscape, as expert testimony concerning the reliability of eyewitness testimony has moved from novel and uncertain to settled and widely accepted.” There is now a clear trend to allow eyewitness expert testimony to help the jury understand the characteristics of eyewitness identification.
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