State v. Henderson, 208 N.J. 208 (2011)

Background: Defendant was convicted of reckless manslaughter, aggravated assault, and three weapons offenses. He appealed. The Superior Court, Appellate Division, reversed and remanded for a new Wade hearing on whether an eyewitness identification was reliable despite an identification procedure that was presumed to be impermissibly suggestive. The state filed a petition for certification. The Supreme Court remanded to the trial court for a plenary hearing to decide whether the assumptions and other factors reflected in the two-part Manson/Madison test for the admissibility of eyewitness-identification evidence remained valid. On return from remand, the Supreme Court held that courts must carefully consider identification evidence before it is admitted to weed out any unreliable identifications, consider the science pertaining to eyewitness identification and memory.

The Facts: The investigating officers intervened after the eyewitness, informed the lineup administrator that he could not make an identification from the final two photos. The officers conveyed a message that there was an identification to be made and they encouraged the witness to make one. The suggestive nature of the officers’ comments entitled defendant to a pretrial hearing, and he received one in which the trial court applied the Manson/Madison test. The case was remanded.

Holding: Upon remand, the Court held that the current legal standard for assessing eyewitness identification evidence must be revised because it does not offer an adequate measure for reliability; does not sufficiently deter inappropriate police conduct; and overstates the jury’s ability to evaluate identification evidence. Two modifications to the standard are required.

1) When defendants can show some evidence of suggestiveness, all relevant system and estimator variables should be explored at pretrial hearings.

2) The court system must develop enhanced jury charges on eyewitness identification for trial judges to use.

This new rule is to be applied to future cases except for defendant Henderson.

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Criminal Civil Lawyer

Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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