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State v. Guilbert - 306 Conn. 218, 49 A.3d 705 (2012)

Rule:

Many of the factors affecting the reliability of eyewitness identifications are either unknown to the average juror or contrary to common assumptions, and expert testimony is an effective way to educate jurors about the risks of misidentification. To the extent that State v. Kemp, 199 Conn. 473, 477, 507 A.2d 1387 (1986), and State v. McClendon, 248 Conn. 572, 586, 730 A.2d 1107 (1999), held to the contrary, they are hereby overruled.

Facts:

A jury found Guilbert guilty of capital felony in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-54b(7), two counts of murder in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-54a, and assault in the first degree in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-59(a)(1). The Superior Court in the judicial district of New London (Connecticut) sentenced Guilbert to a term of life imprisonment without the possibility of release, plus 20 years. Guilbert appealed and contended that the trial court improperly precluded him from presenting expert testimony on the fallibility of eyewitness testimony and that case law concluding that the average juror knows about the factors affecting the reliability of eyewitness identification should be overruled. 

Issue:

Did the trial court err in excluding Guilbert 's expert testimony on the issue?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court agreed it was time to overrule State v. Kemp, 199 Conn. 473, 477, 507 A.2d 1387 (1986), and State v. McClendon, 248 Conn. 572, 586, 730 A.2d 1107 (1999). The Supreme Court held that reliability of eyewitness identification was frequently not a matter within the knowledge of an average juror and that admission of expert testimony on the issue did not invade the province of the jury to determine what weight to give the evidence. Many of the factors affecting reliability of eyewitness identification were either unknown to the average juror or contrary to common assumptions. While the trial court erred in excluding defendant's expert on the issue, the error was harmless, as the jury instructions provided assistance to the jury and, in combination with the evidence of defendant's guilt, ensured that the exclusion of the expert's testimony did not substantially affect the verdict.

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