The current issue of Court Review (Volume 48, Issues 1-2) is a special issue devoted entirely to eyewitness evidence. Yesterday the Oregon Supreme Court issued an important opinion changing how that states will in the future deal with eyewitness evidence. The opinion can be found at http://www.publications.ojd.state.or.us/docs/S059234.pdf.
The Oregonian story about the case begins…
About a month before Samuel Lawson was to go on trial for the 2003 murder of a Douglas County man, a detective in the case quietly took a star witness to one of Lawson’s hearings to get a look at him.
Sherl Hilde had been unable to consistently identify Lawson as the suspect who shot her and killed her husband in the attack at a national forest campsite.
But a few weeks after her courtroom visit, the doubt was gone. “I’ll never forget his face as long as I live,” Hilde told jurors. Lawson was convicted of five counts of aggravated murder and is serving a life sentence.
In a sweeping ruling Thursday, the Oregon Supreme Court not only ordered a new trial for Lawson, but also established a new procedure for evaluating whether eyewitness identifications can be used as evidence.
The Supreme Court found “serious questions” about the reliability of Hilde’s identification of Lawson, Justice Paul De Muniz wrote in the unanimous decision. Police asked Hilde leading questions, gave her a photo of the suspect and made suggestive statements that could have implanted in her mind that Lawson — who had encountered the couple earlier in the day — was the shooter, the justices said.