In January 2016 the Illinois Supreme Court set a new precedent in the state with their decision in the case of People v. Lerma. The appeal stemmed from a case initially heard in the Circuit Court of Cook County. In the circuit court the majority of evidence against Eduardo Lerma came from two eyewitness statements. However, the defendant was not allowed to put an eyewitness identification expert on the stand. An expert on eyewitness identification can address where faulty identifications are likely to occur. These are not always details apparent to a jury. The expert will point out details such as:
What the Supreme Court decided in People v. Lerma was that when the judge refused Lerma the opportunity to use an expert witness, he thereby failed to give Lerma a fair trial. In the opinion the Supreme Court wrote, “Advances in DNA testing have confirmed that “eyewitness misidentification is now the single greatest source of wrongful convictions in the United States, and responsible for more wrongful convictions than all other causes combined.” Illinois courts, which had up until this case been notorious for denying expert witnesses to testify on eyewitness identification, are realizing the importance of having experts on the stand when a case is based almost solely on eyewitness statements instead of forensic science.
We have already seen the impact of this Illinois Supreme Court decision within the Chicago area. In 2006 a rapper from Rolling Meadows was killed and Patrick Taylor from Chicago was sentenced in 2011 during a case that relied heavily on four eyewitnesses. Taylor’s case was recently reviewed by the Illinois Appellate Court and will now receive a new trial. One of the assistant Cook County public defenders who defended Taylor told the Chicago Tribune, “The physical evidence pointed to another man.”
Whether or not Taylor is found innocent remains to be seen, however allowing a criminal defense team to present expert witnesses is critical. As a result of People v. Lerma we expect to see more appeals such as Taylor’s. Contact the law office of Chicago appeals attorneys Barney and Hourihane today at 312-854-0906 for immediate assistance.