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NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Says Courts Should Instruct Juries on Racial Bias in Eyewitness Identifications

4/18/17

Read the PDF version of our statement here.

NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Says Courts Should Instruct Juries on Racial Bias in Eyewitness Identifications

Arguments in Cross-Racial Identification Case, People v. Boone, to Start on April 25 

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), along with other members of the New York legal community, filed an amicus brief with the New York State Court of Appeals to support jury instructions that would help prevent racially-biased wrongful convictions. The LDF brief urges the Court of Appeals to mandate that New York courts instruct juries on the proven influence of race on a witness’s ability to correctly identify suspects in all appropriate cases.

Eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions in our criminal justice system. And despite comprising only 13 percent of the United States population, African Americans constitute 47 percent of all exonerations.  Scientific research has established that it is more difficult for people to accurately identify individuals whose racial background is different from their own, leading to wrongful convictions of innocent people of color. More than 70 percent of DNA exoneration cases have involved misidentification, and 42 percent of these cases involved cross-racial identification, most commonly a white eyewitness mistakenly identifying a person of color.

Assistant Counsel Marne Lenox, one of the lead authors of LDF’s friend of the court brief, said juries should receive explanations about the dangers of cross-racial misidentification. 

“Failing to educate juries on the effect of cross-racial identifications deepens existing racial disparities in our flawed justice system and can ruins the lives of innocent Americans,” she said.

The brief was filed in the case of People v. Boone. Otis Boone, a Black man from Brooklyn, was convicted of two counts of robbery in the first degree for two separate two-minute-long street muggings in 2012 that were 10 days apart.  In each instance, the prosecution’s case relied entirely on whether the jury credited the identification of Mr. Boone by a white complainant, one of whom was attacked from behind. With no supporting evidence and unaware that eyewitnesses are more likely to misidentify a person whose race is different than their own, the jury found Mr. Boone guilty; he was ultimately sentenced to 15 years in prison. 

“The imbalance in our justice system continues to have destructive effects on the lives of people of color,” Lenox said. “We must equip juries with all the necessary information before we entrust them with the power to change the course of someone’s life.”

Arguments in the case are set to begin on Tuesday, April 25, 2017. For a live feed of the oral arguments, visit https://www.nycourts.gov/ctapps/live.html.

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Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization and has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute is a multi-disciplinary and collaborative hub within LDF that launches targeted campaigns and undertakes innovative research to shape the civil rights narrative. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF.