Court Considers Batch Of Eyewitness ID Cases

, The Connecticut Law Tribune

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Attorney Lisa J. Steele

"Stress has a drastic effect on both the ability to formulate memory and perceive," said Streeto. "A weapon present really eradicates the ability to make an accurate identification. Cross racial identification is difficult for most people. The size of the studies here are really mounting up. A general based consensus is emerging."

Streeto represents DaShawn Revels, who was convicted of shooting and killing Bryan Davila, a 20-year-old New London man, in 2009. A witness saw the shooting from her kitchen window and later identified Revels to police. The witness described the shooter's gender, race, hair, clothing and hat color.

"At no time did [the witness] describe the perpetrator's face or facial features," Hope Seeley of Hartford's Santos & Seeley writes in an amicus brief on behalf of the Innocence Project. "The court should have found that this factor weighed against reliability."

The other case up for oral argument is that of Troy Artis, who was convicted of first-degree assault as an accessory. Defense attorney Lisa Steele, of Bolton, Mass., represents Artis, as well as Nathan Johnson.

Steele said that when the detective prepared the photo array to present to the victim in Artis' case, the officer pointed to one image with the defendant's name on it and said, "This is the guy I'm going to arrest." The trial court agreed that what the officer did was unnecessarily suggestive, but added that the identification was reliable because the witness was 100 percent sure he was identifying the right suspect.

On appeal, however, the Appellate Court ordered a new trial. The panel had concerns with the identification, including that the witness had consumed at least four beers before the alleged assault, that there was insufficient lighting at the location of the altercation, and that the witness and his assailant were face to face for only a few seconds.

The appellate judges also noted that the witness was unable to describe the clothes worn by the assailant; that his testimony regarding the location of the assailant just before the incident was contradicted by other evidence, and that he was under stress at the time of the assault.

Special deputy assistant state's attorney Laurie Feldman argues that the Appellate Court is applying "social science beyond its reliable reach." She hopes the state Supreme Court reinstates the conviction.

The Appellate Court decision "effectively ruled that due process requires trial courts to review reliability through a social science lens," Feldman writes in court documents. "This is precisely the wrong approach to this area, in which findings are controversial and in flux. … This case is a warning against appellate reliance on the shifting sands of social science research to usurp the roles of the trial judge and jury so as to overturn convictions of the guilty."

In the Revels case, the Connecticut Psychological Association submitted its first ever amicus brief.

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