Notice Inviting Comment
Report and Recommendations of the
Supreme Judicial Court Study Group on Eyewitness Evidence
In the fall of 2011, the Justices of the Supreme Judicial Court convened the Study Group on Eyewitness Identification (Study Group) to offer guidance as to how Massachusetts courts can most effectively deter unnecessarily suggestive identification procedures and minimize the risk of a wrongful conviction. The Study Group undertook its work mainly in three subcommittees. The Police Practices Subcommittee explored whether the Supreme Judicial Court should require police protocols in eyewitness identification procedures beyond those required in Commonwealth v. Walker, 460 Mass. 590, 603-604 (2011) and Commonwealth v. Silva-Santiago, 453 Mass. 782, 798 (2009), and what consequences are appropriate for the failure of police to adhere to these protocols. The Hearing Subcommittee examined whether pretrial evidentiary hearings should be conducted where the reliability of a pretrial identification is challenged for reasons other than an unnecessarily suggestive identification procedure caused by police and private conduct, and, if so, what remedy, if any, is appropriate. The Jury Instructions Subcommittee considered whether existing model jury instructions adequately assist juries in evaluating eyewitness testimony and, if not, what instructions would better assist juries and whether revised jury instructions would reduce the need for expert testimony.
In July, 2013, the Study Group presented its Report and Recommendations to the Justices (Report) . The Report recommends that the Court: (1) take judicial notice as legislative facts of certain generally established modern psychological principles regarding eyewitness memory, (2) support uniform statewide procedures to ensure that all Massachusetts police departments employ best practices on eyewitness identification procedures, (3) provide the basis for an expanded pretrial judicial inquiry into the reliability of eyewitness evidence and an expanded array of remedies beyond those available for identifications involving suggestive police practices, (4) adopt new and expanded jury instructions on eyewitness evidence, and (5) establish a committee or committees for educating and training judges and the bar about the new procedures concerning eyewitness evidence and for monitoring the evolving science of eyewitness evidence.
The Justices of the Supreme Judicial Court invite comments any aspect of the Report. Comments should be directed to Christine P. Burak, Esq., Legal Counsel to the Chief Justice, Supreme Judicial Court, John Adams Courthouse, One Pemberton Square, Boston, MA 02108, on or before January 24, 2014. Comments may also be emailed to email@example.com.