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Recent advances in the study of human memory have changed the way we understand memory.  As science has progressed, the courts have tried to adjust the law to incorporate the principles that are “generally accepted”. In 2013, the SJC study group released a report on eyewitness identification and a compilation of Comments.  Just last month, the court addressed the issue of in-court identifications in Commonwealth v. Crayton.  Now the court has issued a decision that addresses the issue of human memory and eyewitness identification.  In Commonwealth v. Gomes, the court issues a lengthy decision where they identified 5 principles:

  1. Human memory does not function like a video recording but is a complex process that consists of three stages: acquisition, retention, and retrieval.
  2. An eyewitness’s expressed certainty in an identification, standing alone, may not indicate the accuracy of the identification, especially where the witness did not describe that level of certainty when the witness first made the
    identification.
  3. High levels of stress can reduce an eyewitness’s ability to make an accurate identification.
  4. Information that is unrelated to the initial viewing of the event, which an eyewitness receives before or after making an identification, can influence the witness’s later recollection of the memory or of the identification.
  5. A prior viewing of a suspect at an identification procedure may reduce the reliability of a subsequent identification procedure in which the same suspect is shown.

The decision includes a provisional jury instruction, which will be reviewed an updated as the science and the law progresses.

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