STORY: "High court opens door to experts who say eyewitness IDs are unreliable Illinois Supreme Court," by reporter Robert McCoppin, published on September 12, 2016 by The Chicago Tribune.
GIST: "In convincing a jury that Marco Lopez was not guilty of killing a father and son in Palatine, his lawyers had to cast doubt on the testimony of a man who said he heard gunfire and then saw Lopez hustling from the crime scene. Their strategy was to bring in an expert to testify about why eyewitness accounts can't always be trusted, and it apparently worked: Lopez was acquitted Thursday of the 2014 shooting deaths of 15-year-old Luis Reynoso and his 38-year-old father, Segundo. In recent years, Illinois courts were generally reluctant to allow experts to tell jurors during trials why eyewitnesses sometimes get it wrong. But a recent Illinois Supreme Court ruling has opened the door much wider to such testimony, nodding to a growing body of scientific evidence that we can't always believe our own eyes — and that jurors and judges shouldn't always, either. In a case involving a man accused of killing his neighbor in Chicago, the high court justices wrote in their January ruling that in the last 25 years, "we not only have seen that eyewitness identifications are not always as reliable as they appear, but we also have learned, from a scientific standpoint, why this is often the case. ... Today we are able to recognize that such research is well settled, well supported, and in appropriate cases a perfectly proper subject for expert testimony.".........But it was the January state Supreme Court ruling in the case of Eduardo Lerma that provided defense attorneys the new tactic for blunting the impact of eyewitnesses. Lerma too was convicted almost entirely on eyewitness testimony.
In 2008, Jason Gill and his friend Lydia Clark were sitting on the steps of his front porch in Chicago when a man approached and opened fire. Gill shielded Clark and was struck several times, according to court records. Clark dragged Gill into the house where, before he died, he told his uncle that the gunman was a man nicknamed "Lucky" — Eduardo Lerma — who lived across the street. Clark also identified Lerma in a lineup, and later at his trial testified that she had seen him multiple times before, but only from across the street. She acknowledged she had never spoken to him or been in the same room with him. In what some legal advocates hailed as a landmark decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Lerma must receive a new trial to allow expert testimony on eyewitness identification. It was testimony from the same expert, Loftus, that had been excluded from Lerma's trial. For the Lopez case, Loftus said he was paid $250 an hour and $10,000 in total. Karen Daniel, director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University, lauded the state Supreme Court's ruling, saying studies have shown that eyewitness testimony can be extremely unreliable. Identifications are particularly questionable when they come at crime scenes, where witnesses may be under stress, in danger, rushed and distracted by a weapon or noise. Positively identifying a person who is unknown to the witness, or who is of another race, has been shown to be even more problematic. And a witness's confidence in being correct about an identification does not necessarily correlate to its accuracy, she said. Memories can even be implanted by leading witnesses to certain conclusions. In studies, for example, people have "recalled" vivid encounters with Bugs Bunny at Walt Disney World, even though Bugs Bunny would not have been there because he's not a Disney character. In criminal trials, jurors typically are instructed that they are the sole judge of the reliability of witnesses and may take into account their memory, manner, bias and reasonableness. Now, Daniel argued, the Supreme Court should consider expanding the instructions to include some of the doubts raised by research on the subject. "The trend is definitely rapidly growing in favor of not only allowing this type of expert testimony, but revamping in general the way this type of (eyewitness) evidence is presented to juries," she said."
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