SJC Announces New Jury Instructions for Eyewitness Identification

December 8, 2015 2:24pm

Supreme Judicial Court Announces New Jury Instructions on Eyewitness Identification

The Justices of the Supreme Judicial Court today announce that they have approved new jury instructions on eyewitness identification. The new Model Instruction replaces the provisional instruction approved in Commonwealth v. Gomes, 470 Mass. 352, 379-388 (2015). A new Preliminary/Contemporaneous Instruction also has been approved that shall be given, upon request of a party, before opening statements or immediately before or after the testimony of an identifying witness.

In Gomes, the Court stated that it would adopt a model instruction after soliciting public comments on the provisional instruction. In approving the new instructions, the Justices expressed appreciation to the Standing Committee on Eyewitness Identification for their recommendations regarding revisions to the provisional instruction, and to the members of the bench and bar who submitted thoughtful comments.

Noting that the instructions will need to evolve with new developments in the science of identification and with the experience of judges using them, the Justices asked the Standing Committee to continue to review the applicable science, monitor the efficacy of the instructions in providing guidance to jurors, and recommend further revisions as needed or warranted.

The Statement of the Supreme Judicial Court, the Preliminary/Contemporaneous Instruction, and the Model Eyewitness Identification Instruction can be found at 473 Mass. 1051 (2015), and are also linked below in one document.