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Deciphering The High Court Ruling On Eyewitness Testimony

OPB | Dec. 5, 2012 12:06 p.m. | Updated: Sept. 11, 2013 12:19 a.m.

The Oregon Supreme Court has handed down a unanimous ruling in a case that some call a radical revision in the way that eyewitness evidence can be used. The case involved the case of Samuel Lawson, who’d been convicted on the basis of the eyewitness testimony from the victim’s widow nearly two years after the murder. The ruling grants him a new trial.

Defense attorney Bronson James says the ruling recognizes 30 years of social science that cast doubt on the reliability of eyewitness testimony. Importantly, he says, it shifts the burden of proving that eyewitness testimony should be admitted to the prosecution. Josh Marquis, the DA for Clatsop County, says he doesn’t like the shift but that it’s not likely to have a huge impact on how cases are tried, since generally best practices for evidence are already being used. 

Do you deal with eyewitness testimony in your line of work? Have you ever been involved in a trial where such testimony was used? What questions do you have about how courts will now be able to use evidence gathered from eyewitnesses?

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