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The Minnesota Supreme Court has directed the state court administrator to train judicial officers on the science behind eyewitness identifications.

Bar Buzz: Supreme Court orders eyewitness ID training

The Minnesota Supreme Court has directed the state court administrator to train judicial officers on the science behind eyewitness identifications.

The training program, which also must be developed by court administration, should help courts make legally sound and just decisions on eyewitness ID evidence’s admissibility, the Dec. 21 order states.

The order stems from an Oct. 1 report on eyewitness identification by the state’s Rules of Evidence Advisory Committee.

That report examines identification procedures, standards for admitting evidence and the use of eyewitness-identification experts. Jury instructions and the standards of review applied by appellate courts also were explored.

The committee came up with several recommendations:

  • Minnesota should adopt a state-wide policy, patterned after the National Academies of Science’s, for police when gathering witness identification evidence.
  • Minnesota’s judicial officers should be trained on the science behind identifications.
  • Jury instructions on eyewitness identification evidence should be updated and modernized.
  • The “mixed question standard” for appellate review (i.e., de novo review of legal issues and deference to factual findings), rather than abuse-of-discretion standard is appropriate. However, in a minority report issued with the findings, Court of Appeals Judge Francis J. Connolly disagreed, arguing that the abuse-of-discretion standard should be retained.
  • The report also identifies several areas of the law that require clarification.

On most of those, the Supreme Court demurred, saying the recommendations either fall outside its judicial authority or should be addressed by other justice partners.

As a result, the report was forwarded to the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, the state Sheriff’s and Police and Peace Officers associations, the State Bar and a variety of other justice system partners, including the governor’s office and Legislature.

The report is also posted online at the Judicial Branch’s website, www.mncourts.gov.

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