Professor Discusses Recent Pennsylvania Court Rulings on Witness Identification
Web Editor - Published: June 16, 2014

Professor Jules Epstein

Two recent rulings in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court suggest very different interpretations of whether or not experts in human memory should be permitted to take the stand in criminal cases to discuss the limitations of eyewitness testimony.

A ruling last month last month that would allow experts in the fallibility of human memory to take the stand in criminal cases involving eyewitness identifications came on the same day that another ruling – decided by a different majority of the court – that such experts should not be permitted to take the stand.

Speaking to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for an article on the rulings, Professor Jules Epstein, who serves as the Director of Widener Law’s Taishoff Advocacy, Technology and Public Service Institute, said, "Either the science is good or it's not. Either jurors should know this stuff or they should not. I don't see any inherently logical distinction."

44 others states currently allow for expert testimony that questions the reliability of eyewitness identification. Scientific studies have suggested that witness identification during traumatic events is unreliable, and particularly so when cross-racial identifications or weapons are involved.

Professor Epstein researches and writes on capital cases, eyewitness identification, and forensic evidence. He has taught death penalty law nationally to judges and attorneys, and continues to handle capital cases at the appellate and post conviction stages. In the area of eyewitness evidence, he has lectured, authored both articles and book chapters, and served as an expert witness. He was recently named 2014 “Lawyer of the Year” for criminal defense, non-white collar in “Best Lawyers® 2014,” a special supplement published with The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Wall Street Journal.