State v. Lawson

Summarized by:

  • Court: Oregon Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Evidence
  • Date Filed: 11-29-2012
  • Case #: S059234
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: De Muniz, J., for the Court; En Banc.
  • Full Text Opinion

The Classen Test of eyewitness testimony has been revised. The state must show that the eyewitness has personal knowledge of all the facts to which he will testify, and prove that the identification was rationally based on the witness' first hand perceptions and will be helpful to the trier of fact.

In a consolidated opinion, Defendants in two separate cases challenged the procedures the police used when interviewing witnesses that identified them. In both cases, the trial court and Court of Appeals applied the test set out in State v. Classen and found that, although the procedure used by the police was suggestive, the proffered identifications had a source independent of the suggestion or were otherwise reliable. The Supreme Court revised the Classen test, finding that it confused state evidentiary issues with constitutional due process issues, that it was developed before the evidence code was enacted, and that the scientific evidence regarding the reliability of eyewitness testimony required reconsideration of the rule. The proponent of evidence has the burden in showing testimony is admissible under the evidence code, including showing that it is relevant and that the testimony is based on the witness's own knowledge, and it may be objected to as unfairly prejudicial. The Court anticipated that the system variables (those surrounding the procurement of an identification) it identified should guide courts in making those determinations, while estimator variables (those surrounding the event in question) will be examined during direct and cross-examination. Reversed and remanded for new trial as to Lawson, affirmed as to James.

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