The Novel New Jersey Eyewitness Instruction Induces Skepticism but Not Sensitivity
PLoS ONE 10(12): e0142695. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0142695
17 Pages Posted: 3 Aug 2014 Last revised: 15 Dec 2015
Date Written: December 9, 2015
In recent decades, social scientists have shown that the reliability of eyewitness identifications is much worse than laypersons tend to believe. Although courts have only recently begun to react to this evidence, the New Jersey judiciary has reformed its jury instructions to notify jurors about the frailties of human memory, the potential for lineup administrators to nudge witnesses towards suspects that they police have already identified, and the advantages of alternative lineup procedures, including blinding of the administrator. This experiment tested the efficacy of New Jersey’s jury instruction. In a 2×2 between-subjects design, mock jurors (N = 335) watched a 35-minute murder trial, wherein identification quality was either “weak” or “strong” and either the New Jersey or a “standard” instruction was delivered. Jurors were more than twice as likely to convict when the standard instruction was used (OR = 2.55; 95% CI = 1.37–4.89, p < 0.001). The New Jersey instruction, however, did not improve juror's ability to discern quality; rather, jurors receiving those instructions indiscriminatingly discounted “weak” and “strong” testimony in equal measure.
Keywords: jury instruction, State v. Henderson, eyewitness testimony, diagnosticity
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