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Eye Witness Testimony

1. Mistaken eyewitness testimony is the single largest contributing factor to wrongful convictions. Pre-trial procedures utilized by law enforcement are not necessarily subject to suppression, even when the procedures are considered “unnecessarily suggestive.”

Discuss eyewitness procedure reforms and include an argument for and against the reforms. Using one of the cases from the text as an example, explain how implementation of the reform(s) would have resolved the defense’s concerns.

            One of the potentially beneficial reforms is adopting a double-anonymized lineup during identification to eliminate suggestive identification (Wells et al., 2020). Mandatory documentation of the identification procedures also helps avoid assumptions. Other reforms include but are not limited to adopting sequential lineup legislation to fill loopholes in the identification process that are often relied upon during suppression motions. In hindsight, a sequential lineup would have resolved the defense’s concerns in Foster v. California as it would have eliminated the possibility of relative judgment by the witness, especially with a limited suspect pool. Notably, these reforms will likely improve accuracy and fairness in the identification process, improve process documentation, and eliminate undue suggestibility. However, the reforms increase the procedural requirements and may impede the need for speedy trials (Wells et al., 2020). The reforms call for systemic changes, which may be costly and inconvenient. 

What must the defense establish to successfully suppress a suggestive identification? Use cases as examples.

            The defense must prove due process or procedural flaws. This is evidenced in Coleman v. Alabama, where the police identification procedure was flawed. The defense must also prove the occurrence of a suggestive lineup during the identification process. This involves proving that a suspect stood out conspicuously, such as in the four-person lineup in the Foster v. California case. Thirdly, they must prove a violation of any constitutional amendment, such as the Fourth Amendment, in Young v. Conway.

Despite the arguments in favor of eyewitness identification reform, is law enforcement motivated to implement such reforms when suppression is not ordinarily a viable option for the defense?

            Yes. The continued adoption of community policing and other reforms that revolutionized the police force have inspired proactivity in law enforcement. Therefore, the police are likely to embrace eyewitness identification reforms despite the hurdles with suppression, given that it would help improve the accuracy and fairness in the criminal justice system, which is a crucial determinant of the success of the police reforms.

How did the Court in United States v. Salerno reason that the Bail Reform Act of 1984, which permitted pre-trial detention without bail, was consistent with the 8th Amendment’s prohibition against “excessive bail?” How does pre-trial detention adversely impact the defendant’s ability to prepare a defense, and in what ways does pre-trial detention impact society? 

            The court reasoned that the Act did not impede speedy trial and was not intended as unusual punishment. It was only applicable in cases where the defendant posed a critical danger to society and had a high flight risk. Thus, it aligned with the 8th Amendment.

            Pre-trial detention limits the defendant’s access to legal resources. Also, it subjects them to unwarranted psychological torture and stress and possible loss of employment during this period. Pre-trial detention also adversely impacts society as it increases the tax burden and leads to undue family separations, which has massive ripple effects (Digard & Swavola, 2019). It also perpetuates inequities in the justice system, given that it overshadows the value of the “innocent until proven guilty” principle.