Misidentification is the single largest contributing factor to wrongful convictions — of the 215 DNA-based exonerations to date, over 75% involved mistaken identification. In response to this recurring travesty, on March 14 and 15, 2008, at NYU Law, over 300 attorneys attended “A New Legal Architecture: Litigating Eyewitness Identification Cases in the 21st Century”, a ground-breaking two-day conference on litigating eyewitness identification cases organized by the Eyewitness Identification Reform Litigation Network (the Innocence Project, the Public Defender Service in Washington, D.C., the National Legal Aid & Defender Association, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers), along with co-sponsors John Jay’s Center on Modern Forensic Practice, the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and NYU Law.
The conference faculty, led by some of the leading eyewitness ID experts and most well-respected trial attorneys nationwide, including Barry Scheck, Jim Doyle, Cathy Ditraglia, Gary Wells, Tim O’Toole, Russ Stetler, Dick Burr, Cynthia Jones, David Rudolf, Joshua Dubin, and others, urged defense attorneys to embrace scientifically-informed litigation techniques at every stage of an eyewitness identification case with the hopes of both protecting the innocent and reforming eyewitness identification laws in the areas of admissibility of identification evidence, the admissibility of experts at hearings and trial, and jury instructions.
The seminar began with a powerful lecture by Jennifer Thompson, a rape victim whose misidentification of Ronald Cotton put Mr. Cotton in jail for over ten years. In the years since Mr. Cotton’s exoneration, Ms. Thompson (now close friends with Mr. Cotton) has lectured around the country about the problems surrounding identification evidence and the need for legal and legislative reform. With the Thompson/Cotton case serving as a guide, the seminar’s faculty took the audience through every stage of an eyewitness case, including developing themes and theories, conducting scientifically-informed investigation and discovery practice, filing an array of suppression motions as well as motions requesting that the police preserve all identification evidence (including all photos — mugbooks included — shown to a witness), finding and working with experts, selecting an open-minded, independent jury, delivering a powerful opening statement, cross-examining honest but mistaken eyewitnesses and police officers whose procedures failed to conform with local rules and/or nationally-accepted best practices, and crafting effective closings and jury instructions.
The conference also served as the launching point for the Eyewitness Identification Reform Litigation Network’s new website, www.eyeid.org, which contains a wealth of information to assist defense counsel in litigating ID cases and, through continual updating and improvement, will become the comprehensive resource for defense attorneys. Please visit (defenders only)!
Meanwhile, if you are interested in learning more about the Eye-ID Network, its website and materials, or in obtaining a CD-Rom of the conference powerpoint, contact Zeke Edwards at firstname.lastname@example.org. For a videotape of the conference (through which attorneys in most states can earn CLE credits), along with a set of conference materials, contact NACDL at http://www.nacdl.org.