Jules Epstein an associate professor of law at Widener University School of Law wrote in The Legal Intelligencer about the state of the law regarding eyewitness identification.
Nationally, legislative action, court decisions and some law enforcement initiatives have led police in many states to adopt "best practices" in eyewitness investigation. However, Pennsylvania seems to lag behind many states.
Next month, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will hear Commonwealth v. Walker, where the principal issue is whether Pennsylvania will permit expert witness testimony in eyewitness cases. According to Epstein, "Since the 1990s, the high court has barred such evidence as unnecessary and as an improper comment on witness credibility; and the arguments being pressed now are that such evidence is necessary, as too many jurors are unaware of how mistaken identifications can occur and what factors support a conclusion that an identification is reliable, and that such expert evidence is no more a comment on credibility than an ophthalmologist who explains about a person's vision or a toxicologist discussing the impact of drinking alcohol on the ability to operate a car."
Epstein concludes, “In 1899 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court approved a jury instruction that "questions, concerning the identity of persons, animals and vehicles are liable to confusion, uncertainty and mistake." Those questions persist today, nationally and in this commonwealth; and it is in cases such as Walker that it will be determined how well trials can successfully answer them.”
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