Tagged: eyewitness

NY Court of Appeals Addresses Cross-Racial Identification Jury Instruction

As NYLJ reports in an article titled Ex-Judges and Prosecutors Ask to Join Case on Cross-Racial Identification written by Andrew Danney, the NY Court of Appeals, sitting in White Plains courthouse starting noon today through Thursday, is to hear a case addressing jury instruction on cross-racial eyewitness identification and number of members of the New York legal community seek to become amici parties to the case.

As the legal representative for the group stated:

We tell juries everyday that they should scrutinize testimony carefully, so it’s not a great leap to ask a trial judge to tell a jury that they should look at cross-race identifications with special care.


Professor Gershman Conducts Eye Witness Identification Exercise in Criminal Procedure Class

POST WRITTEN BY: Annmarie Stepancic (’15), Pace Law School

I was part of a fascinating experiment in my Criminal Procedure Class at Pace Law School, which powerfully brought home the dangers of mistaken identification and wrongful conviction. On Thursday, April 24, 2014, class began in its ordinary fashion – a student was called on to discuss the facts and holding in United States v. Wade388 U.S. 218 (1967). About ten minutes into class, we all learned that this was no ordinary criminal procedure class when a man suddenly stormed into the classroom. According to students’ accounts of the event, the man approached the Professor, Professor Bennett Gershman, and shouted, “Hey Gershman, remember me? You fucking failed me last year.” The intruder then pulled out a gun with his right hand (a “black Glock semi-automatic pistol,” according to some students), and stated, possibly two times, “Give me your wallet.” One student stood up, but the man ordered her to sit down. The man ordered everyone in the class to stay seated. The Professor gave up his wallet and the man ran out. The whole event, according to students, lasted anywhere from thirty seconds to a minute and a half.

A Pace Security guard came in moments later. Professor Gershman assured him that everything was OK. Professor Gershman asked the students not to talk to each other and to write down a brief description of what they just observed, including a description of the assailant.

After the students did so, Professor Gershman dimmed the lights, pulled down the screen, and projected a photographic array of males of similar age and facial characteristics to the intruder.   The students were asked to try to identify the intruder from the photos. Prof. Gershman specifically admonished the students that the perpetrator might or might not be in any of the photos.

Here are the results:

  • Photo #1 – 1 student (1%)
  • Photo #2 – 7 students (9%)
  • Photo #3 – 1 student (1%)
  • Photo #4 – 9 students (12%).
  • Photo #5 – 41 students (55%).
  • Photo #6 – 9 students (12%)
  • Six students reported that the assailant’s photo was not present in the array (7%).

The intruder’s photo was photo #5.

After the students made their selections, the “intruder,” was invited in along with the Greenburgh Chief of Police, Chris McEnery, a Pace Law School alum and a wide-ranging mini-symposium on the constitutional, ethical, and policy rules governing eyewitness identifications began. Specifically, the discussion focused on, as Justice Brennan famously observed in the landmark case of United State v. Wade, how

the annals of criminal law are rife with instances of mistaken identification.

A review of the student responses apparently reveals that most of the students got the prominent facts right, but varied on lots of subsidiary details, and that they omitted important facts. Even though the students were shown the photo array approximately five minutes after the event, only 55% correctly identified the perpetrator in the photo array lineup. It is critical to note, of course,  that real eyewitnesses would not be shown a lineup – corporeal or photographic – so quickly after an event, when the event is so fresh in the minds of the observer, as was the case in our class. As social science and scientific research demonstrates, memory retention – particularly the memory of an eyewitness – dissipates over time.

NY Appellate Court Upholds Vacatur of Conviction Based Upon DNA Evidence

On February 27, 2014, the NY Appellate Division, First Department, unanimously affirmed a prior judgment entered in Bronx County of New York (Clark, D.), vacating Tyrone Hicks’ conviction for Attempted Rape in the First Degree (PL § 110/130.35[1]) and Attempted Sodomy in the First Degree (PL § 110/130.50[1]), based upon his presentation of DNA evidence that had been unearthed by his lawyer, Professor Adele Bernhard of New York Law School. At trial, the only evidence linking Hicks to the crime was the uncorroborated eyewitness identification by the victim. The jury rejected Hicks’ alibi defense, which consisted of testimony from his son-in-law, who claimed that Hicks was home when the attack occurred.

In 2009, Professor Bernhard, who directs the NYLS Post-Conviction Innocence Clinic, successfully obtained testing of genetic material found under the victim’s fingernails that had been collected shortly after the crime. The results of such testing concluded that there was male genetic material recovered from the victim’s fingernail scrapings that did not match the defendant’s DNA. Professor Bernhard petitioned the court to vacate Hick’s conviction based upon both the DNA results, and the likelihood that Hicks had been misidentified as the assailant.

In vacating Hicks’ conviction, the Bronx County Court concluded that a new trial was warranted under CPL § 440.10 (1) (g), since the results of the DNA testing “could not have been discovered prior to [Hicks’] trial,” and were “unquestionably material to the issues of identity” – undermining the “sole evidence connecting [Hicks] to the crime.” The court observed that “the DNA test results ruling out the defendant’s genetic profile [had] pronounced forensic value where there [was] multiple differing descriptions of the perpetrator by the sole identifying witness and no physical evidence linking the defendant to the crime.” Id. at 4.  The court explained that the jury may have seen it to be “a particularly powerful piece of evidence, especially where the identity of [the] attacker was the primary issue at trial.”

The Appellate Court upheld the lower court’s decision to vacate the conviction based upon the defendant’s showing that the DNA results created a “reasonable probability that he would have obtained a more favorable verdict.” The Court also concluded that “the DNA evidence [was] material and exculpatory because it support[ed] identifying someone other than defendant as the attacker.” Notably, the Court rejected the government’s claim that the DNA results were cumulative, and not newly discovered under CPL 440.10 (g). Specifically, the Court noted that given the recent amendments to CPL 440.10, namely CPL 440.10 (1) (g-1), the defendant “no longer ha[d] to show that the results of [DNA] testing is newly discovered evidence in order to seek vacatur of a judgment of conviction.”

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Battle of Experts: Controversy in Shaken Baby Case Set for NY Court

A New York court is set to hear testimony that will decide whether a shift in the medical community over the prognosis of shaken baby syndrome (“SBS”) constitutes newly discovered evidence under Article 440 of the New York Criminal Procedure Law. Supreme Court Justice James Piampiano has ordered a hearing in People v. Rene Bailey after being presented with strong evidence that the medical community’s standard for diagnosing shaken baby syndrome has significantly shifted over the years since Bailey’s conviction.

 Rene Bailey, once a daycare provider, was convicted of violently shaking a two year old child and causing severe brain injuries that resulted in the child’s death. At trial, the proof against Bailey rested primarily upon the testimony of a state medical examiner, who had claimed that the child’s internal brain injuries could only be caused by a violent shaking of the  body (SBS), and could not be attributed to any other cause known within the medical community at the time.

Contrary to the state’s medical examiner, medical experts for Bailey have now opined that a diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome should not have rested exclusively on the presentation of the child’s internal brain injuries, consisting of subdural hematoma, retinal hemorrhaging, and cerebral edema (“triad of injuries”). As of today, many members within the medical community no longer promote an exclusive diagnosis of SBS based solely upon the presentation of internal brain injuries, realizing that causes unassociated with shaking may be the root of the issue. Since Bailey’s conviction, medical studies have also shown that a child may suffer the “triad of injuries” as a result of impact to the brain caused by common short distance falls. Notably, as opined in an article by NY Times writer Emily Bazelon, some biomechanical engineers have raised doubts, [in the absence of external injuries], about whether it’s even possible to shake a baby to death.

Aside from new medical testimony, the Court will also entertain evidence that has been discovered by her attorney, Professor Adele Bernhard of New York Law School, which shows that her client may be factually innocent. The evidence presented by a new witness appears to support Bailey’s continuous declaration that she had not shaken the alleged victim, and further corroborates the observation of another child, who was present at the time of the occurrence and had initially stated to the police that the alleged victim had jumped off a chair and hit her head on the ground.  Justice Piampiano has also reserved judgment upon whether further discovery will be ordered in the matter, including whether Bailey’s request for the State to produce notes from an interview of a third child eyewitness will be granted. According to court papers, a third child may have also been present at the time of the alleged occurrence, and the child may have made exculpatory declarations to police consistent with Bailey’s version of the event  that were never disclosed to trial counsel.

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Let’s Make Brady v. Maryland Meaningful

The Brooklyn District Attorney has promised to review 50 convictions that relied on the work of police detective Louis Scarcella – linked to “troubling aspects” of one case that was recently overturned.

The newly established Conviction Integrity Unit will review all of the cases where Scarcella was the lead detective and where the police investigation culminated in a conviction after trial.  

The New York Times reported that Scarcella relied on a single eyewitness to make at least a dozen cases.  The witness was known to be a drug-addicted prostitute who claimed to have seen multiple different murders happen before her eyes.

We applaud DA Hynes for establishing a Conviction Integrity Unity, and for focusing on the work of Scarcella. However, we believe that broader interpretation of the Brady rule would have prevented these convictions and could prevent other miscarriages of justice going forward.  Any time a police informant takes the stand, the prosecution should be required to discover and disclose not just a witness’s prior record and the benefit expected in exchange for testimony (that information is required to be disclosed now – pursuant to the current conservative interpretation of Brady), but also information about all the other cases where the informant has testified in the past.  If defense counsel had been told that Scarcella’s informant had traveled around Brooklyn spotting murders, counsel might have argued to the jury that the informant’s testimony was simply not credible. The prosecution might have reached that same conclusion on its own. But, since Scarcella was not required to enlighten the prosecution regarding the informant’s special history, the prosecution could turn a blind eye and keep defense counsel in the dark too.  A broader reading of the Brady obligation would put a stop to such willful ignorance.  

Read the New York Times May 19, 2013 editorial on Brady here:  

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