If a trial court has refused to allow an eyewitness expert to testify at your criminal trial, it may be grounds to appeal for a new trial according to a decision that came down earlier this year from the Illinois Supreme Court. While eyewitness experts have long been considered important witnesses who are regularly allowed to testify in other states and federal court, it wasn’t until this recent decision that the highest court in the state recognized that judges also need to allow these experts into Illinois courtrooms
People v. Lerma Overturns Longstanding Illinois Precedent
People v. Lerma was an appeal from a first-degree murder conviction from the city of Chicago. The victim was shot and killed outside of his home. Before dying, the victim, as well as a friend who was with him identified the defendant as the shooter by a nickname. While testifying before a grand jury, the friend stated that she recognized the defendant because she had seen him across the street about ten times, but at the jury trial she admitted that in fact she had only seen him a couple times in the past. Other than her witness identification, there was no evidence to link the defendant to the murder.
The defendant sought to have two experts in eyewitness identification testify at trial, but the Cook County court refused to allow the experts to testify on the grounds that the witness had previously known the defendant. This was somewhat in line with a prior case, People v Enis, in which the Illinois Supreme Court urged lower courts to use caution before allowing eyewitness experts to testify at trial.
But in Lerma, the Illinois Supreme Court noted that the Enis decision came down 25 years ago when eyewitness expert testimony was a fledgling field and its reliability was unclear. In the more than two decades since that time, use of eyewitness experts has become widely accepted in courts around the country, resulting in numerous acquittals.
While trial courts have a large amount of discretion in allowing any type of expert to testify at a trial, the Supreme Court found that it was a clear abuse of discretion in Lerma not to allow an eyewitness expert to testify, particularly one who was also familiar with the issue of misidentification of persons previously known to a witness. Lerma is an important case in allowing defendants to introduce additional evidence that may cast light on their guilt, but it also opens the door for defendants who were previously convicted after eyewitness experts were barred from testifying to appeal their convictions.
Need Legal Help?
Once you’ve been convicted of a serious crime, that doesn’t have to be the end of the road for your case. Prosecutors or the trial judge may have committed an error, such as not letting an eyewitness expert testimony, that is grounds for appeal and reversal of your conviction. For more information, contact Barney & Hourihane today for a consultation.