In Boca Raton recently, a man was arrested after being accused of robbing a landscaper at gunpoint. Two other men are accused of participating in the heist.
According to police, the landscaper was working on a house’s yard when a gold sports utility vehicle pulled up next to his equipment. When he allegedly approached the SUV, a person pulled out a gun and pointed it at him while two others stole the man’s equipment and drove off. Police say the victim wrote down the SUV’s license plate and called police, who tracked the vehicle to one of the men.
Eyewitness testimony can be inherently faulty and unreliable, which is why an experienced Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyer must be called in to scrutinize the witness and challenge what they said they saw at the scene. This form of evidence from the state is particularly frustrating when dealing with cases of shootings in Broward County. When a shooting takes place, it is rare that someone would get a clear view of the person firing shots because most people would be ducking and hiding as to not get hit.
And sometimes it’s secondhand knowledge that gets passed on to police as rumors circulate in the neighborhood, leading to a person making an identification for police based on someone else’s observations. This is dangerous, as a person’s liberty and freedom is at stake.
New Jersey court officials made a bold step recently, reports The New York Times, by making sweeping changes to the rules that govern how witness testimony should be considered, saying there is a “troubling lack of reliability in eyewitness identifications.”
The New Jersey changes include more scrutiny for eyewitnesses who are presented as possible witnesses in criminal cases. According to the newspaper, whenever a defendant presents evidence that a witness identification of a suspect was influenced, a hearing must be held to consider the lighting, the time that elapsed since the crime or whether the victim felt stress while being identified. This includes pressure from police to make an identification.
When disputed evidence is admitted into trial, the judge must tell jurors about the influences that could heighten the risk of misidentification. In the past, judges held hearings, but they weren’t nearly as specific. Judges will now be able to review a wide range of factors that could pin down how good of an identification the witness made, including the duration of the crime, whether the witness was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, how far away the suspect and witness were and other factors.
The New York Times suspects that while this change will only effect New Jersey cases for now, it could eventually pave the way for other states to take a similar approach. The decision was made after a review of cases and more than 2,000 studies on the topic. New Jersey’s high court has been a trailblazer in other criminal matters as well.
Let’s hope that Florida’s Supreme Court will look at the issue and themselves determine how unreliable witnesses are in criminal cases. There are many times when the police’s main witness is somewhat unsure of who he or she saw commit a crime, but officers nudge them in the direction they want them to go with suggestive words. Other times, they simply aren’t sure, but want to help police make an arrest.
Whatever the reason for a misidentification, it is costly and the wrong way to treat the criminal justice system. If a person is to be convicted of a crime, the state must have proof beyond a reasonable doubt, not a guess.
If you are arrested in West Palm Beach or elsewhere in South Florida, contact Leifert & Leifert at 954-523-9600 or 561-988-8000 for a free consultation.
More Blog Entries:
Former Palm Beach County Employee Faces Grand Theft Charge: August 30, 2011
Landscaper’s lawn gear stolen at gunpoint in Boca Raton, by Wayne K. Roustan, Sun Sentinel
In New Jersey, Rules Are Changed on Witness IDs, by Benjamin Weiser, The New York Times