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Supreme Court hears arguments on eyewitness identification

The US Supreme Court [official website] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF] in two cases on Wednesday. In Perry v. New Hampshire [transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court considered whether the due process protections against unreliable identification evidence apply to all identifications or only when the suggestive circumstances were orchestrated by the police. The petitioner was convicted based in part on an eyewitness identification made while he was in handcuffs, albeit not orchestrated by the police. The petitioner argued that it was fundamentally unfair to allow potentially erroneous eyewitness identifications into the trial simply because they were not orchestrated by police. New Hampshire, supported by the Solicitor General as amicus curiae, argued that the rules of evidence provided sufficient safeguards and that cases where the erroneous identifications were disallowed were aimed at deterring police misconduct, which no one has alleged in the case at hand. In addition, the government urged it is the primary role of the jury to assess the reliability of evidence and handing that determination to the judge would be a fundamental shift in our trial practice. The court questioned whether the role of these due process protections was strictly deterrence or whether it also included prevention of injustice, as urged by petitioner.

In Gonzalez v. Thaler [transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court considered when jurisdiction exists pursuant to a certificate of appealability issued under 28 USC § 2253(c) [text] to adjudicate a petitioner's appeal and when time runs out for habeas corpus review under 28 USC § 2244(d)(1) [text]. Petitioner argued that a certificate of appealability (COA) that does not fully comply with all the requirements of the statute, nonetheless confers jurisdiction on the federal appeals court. Petitioner also argued that the one-year statute of limitations for federal habeas corpus review should not begin until the ruling is final according to State law, as opposed to a uniform federally-imposed definition of a final ruling. The state argued that, because the COA was incomplete due to the district court judge's error, it did not meet the requirements of the statute and, therefore, did not confer jurisdiction on the appeals court. The state also argued that the statute provides a two-prong to determine with the clock starts to run and that, even where that might start the clock running before state habeas corpus review becomes available, the clock should start nonetheless. The state noted the circumstances of this care occur only rarely and, in any event, the stay-and-abeyance procedure used in Rhines would resolve the issue, and should have been employed in this case.

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