WASHINGTON, Jan 11 (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court
ruled on Wednesday that the Constitution does not require a
special judicial inquiry into the potential unreliability of
eyewitness testimony in criminal cases when there has been no
By a 8-1 vote, the high court sided with New Hampshire and
Obama administration attorneys, who argued that existing
safeguards were sufficient to prevent unreliable testimony.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the court majority
that the U.S. Constitution's due process protections do not
require a judicial inquiry into the reliability of an eyewitness
identification in cases when the police do not improperly
suggest to the eyewitness that the suspect was guilty.
The Supreme Court's ruling came at a time of renewed debate
about the trustworthiness of eyewitness accounts and concerns
mistaken eyewitness identifications can lead to wrongful
A recent book by University of Virginia law professor
Brandon Garrett found that 190 of the first 250 people
exonerated by DNA evidence had been convicted because of
mistaken eyewitness testimony.
The ruling was a defeat for Barion Perry, who was convicted
of theft for breaking into a car in 2008 at an apartment
building parking lot in Nashua, New Hampshire. He was sentenced
to three to 10 years in prison.
Nubia Blandon, who lived in a fourth-floor apartment, told
police she saw Perry take things from the car. She described the
suspect as a "tall black man," but gave no other details. She
later could not pick him out of a police photo lineup.
Perry's lawyer argued that Blandon should have been excluded
from testifying at trial because her observations were
But the justices disagreed and upheld a New Hampshire
Supreme Court ruling that allowed the eyewitness testimony in
Ginsburg refused to extend judicial review to all eyewitness
identifications made under suggestive circumstances if the
police are not involved.
A judicial inquiry into the reliability of an eyewitness
identification has been required in the past only when the
police unnecessarily suggested to the eyewitness that a certain
suspect was guilty or engaged in similar misconduct.
She said no improper police conduct tainted the
identification in Perry's case.
"We do not doubt either the fallibility or the importance of
eyewitness evidence generally," Ginsburg said. "In our system of
justice, however, the jury, not the judge, ordinarily determines
the trustworthiness of evidence."
She added: "Safeguards built into our adversary system can
serve to inhibit juries from placing undue weight on eyewitness
and other testimony of questionable reliability."
Absent improper police conduct, existing safeguards are
sufficient, she concluded in summarizing the opinion from the
Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the lone dissenter.
The Supreme Court case is Perry v. New Hampshire, No.
For Perry: Richard Guerriero of N.H. Appellate Defender
For New Hampshire: Stephen Fuller of the New Hampshire
Department of Justice.
(Reporting By James Vicini)
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