The courts are just catching up.
Before sending jurors off to deliberate, judges in New Jersey will now be giving them instructions designed to resolve some of the short-comings of eye witness testimony. In addition to reminding jurors that what an eyewitness sees can be affected by distance, poor lighting, and stress, the instructions reflect some of the findings of behavioral psychology.
Among other things, the instructions say, "You should consider whether the fact that the witness and the defendant are not of the same race may have influenced the accuracy of the witness’s identification.” A long line of studies document just that.
Brandon L. Garrett, a law professor at the University of Virginia and author of Convicting the Innocent, a book that includes a study of eyewitness mis-identifications, was cited by the New Jersey Supreme court in its decision to require the new instructions. “These instructions are far more detailed and careful than anything that exists anywhere in the country,” he told the New York Times.
While the New Jersey action doesn't bind other states, many are expected to follow suit. A good step toward more OtherWise justice.