Reliability of eyewitness identifications brought front and center in recent COA opinion

In People v. Blevins, No. 315774 , the Michigan Court of Appeals refused to engage a dissenting judge on the potential flaws in existing jury instructions concerning eyewitness reliability. While the case was ultimately remanded for resentencing due to the Michigan Supreme Court’s recent decision in Lockridge, a different issue—the reliability of eyewitness identification—elicited a thorough analysis by Judge Shapiro in a dissent.

The Court of Appeals addressed the Defendant’s claim that his identification by four eyewitnesses was used impermissibly at trial because the jury should have been informed of the dangers of relying on eyewitness identifications. The Court dismissed this argument, noting that the trial court gave the proper standard jury instruction. This instruction requires the jury to evaluate for itself the reliability of an eyewitness’s identification. Because Defendant could have—but did not—sought a special jury instruction on eyewitness reliability or provided an expert witness to explain the possible inaccuracies associated with eyewitness identifications, the Court rejected this argument.

Judge Shapiro, however, dissented to explain at length why Michigan’s standard jury instruction is insufficient in light of the ample evidence showing the inherent flaws in relying on eyewitness identifications. After reciting numerous studies and case law from non-Michigan jurisdictions, Judge Shapiro urged the Michigan Supreme Court to take action to develop a jury instruction that provides, for example, jurors with the variables that increase or decrease the reliability of eyewitness identification.