Amy D. Trenary


Eyewitness identification testimony is notoriously unreliable and has significantly contributed to wrongful convictions. Most courts use the standard set forth by the Supreme Court in Manson v. Brathwaite to assess whether eyewitness identifications are sufficiently reliable to present to the jury. But in the thirty-five years since Manson, an extensive body of research has amassed that calls into question the continuing validity of that standard. Researchers have identified numerous system variables (procedural elements subject to official control) and estimator variables (factors related to the witness, perpetrator, and event) that affect the accuracy of eyewitness identifications. The Manson standard fails to account for most of these factors. In response, the New Jersey Supreme Court in State v. Henderson retooled its state constitutional due process test for admitting eyewitness identification testimony and mandated more comprehensive jury instructions that warn jurors of the vulnerability of eyewitness identifications to both system and estimator variables. Until the Supreme Court is willing to revise the Manson v. Brathwaite standard, state courts should consider adopting more comprehensive due process requirements, as well as jury instructions that better embody the current state of scientific understanding about the complexities of memory and the fallibility of eyewitnesses