Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Wizards of I.D.

Young v. Conway, No. 11-830-cr (2d Cir. October 16, 2012) (Parker, Hall, Carney, CJJ)

While decisions on state prisoners’ federal habeas corpus petitions are not consistently covered on this site, this particular case is fascinating.  In it, the circuit agrees with the district court that the New York state courts misapplied federal law in finding that the victim of a home invasion robbery had an independent basis for her in-court identification of the petitioner, Rudolph Young.

In reaching this result, the circuit relies heavily on recent scientific findings about eyewitness identification furnished by The Innocence Project, amicus curiae here. Among those highlighted are: [1] even “subtle disguises” can “impair identification accuracy”; [2] the presence of a weapon during the crime “will draw central attention, thus decreasing the ability of the eyewitness to adequately encode and later recall peripheral details”; [3] “high levels of stress have been shown to induce a defensive mental state that can result in a diminished ability accurately to process and recall events”; [4] cross-racial identifications are “significantly prone” to error; [5] “prior identifications may taint subsequent in-court identifications due to a phenomenon known as the ‘mugshot exposure effect’ or ‘unconscious transference’”; [6] “the passage of time both degrades correct memories and heightens confidence in incorrect ones.”

There is much more to this long and thorough opinion, though; it is well worth the read.


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