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In light of the variables identified in scientific research, the Classen test does not accomplish its goal of ensuring that only sufficiently reliable identifications are admitted into evidence. Not only are the reliability factors listed in Classen, opportunity to view the alleged perpetrator, attention to identifying features, timing and completeness of description given after the event, certainty of description and identification by witness, and lapse of time between original observation and the subsequent identification, both incomplete and, at times, inconsistent with modern scientific findings, but the Classen inquiry itself is somewhat at odds with its own goals and with current Oregon evidence law.
In these two criminal cases consolidated for purposes of opinion, each defendant's conviction was based, for the most part, on eyewitness identification evidence. In State v. Lawson, 239 Ore App 363, 244 P3d 860 (2010), the Court of Appeals concluded that, despite the state's use of unduly suggestive pretrial identification procedures, under the test first articulated by this court in State v. Classen, 285 Ore 221, 590 P2d 1198 (1979), the victim's identification of defendant Lawson had been reliable enough to allow the jury to consider it in its deliberations. In State v. James, 240 Ore App 324, 245 P3d 705 (2011) — again relying on Classen — the Court of Appeals similarly concluded that, although the witnesses had been subject to an unduly suggestive police procedure in the course of identifying defendant James, those identifications had nevertheless been sufficiently reliable, and were therefore admissible at trial.
Is the Classen test consistent with the current scientific research and understanding of eyewitness identification?
The supreme court revised the Classen test and found that, with regard to the first defendant, a reversal and remand was necessary. The alterations in the victim's statements over time were indicative of a memory altered by suggestion and confirming feedback. She initially told the police that she had not seen the perpetrator's face and could not identify him. After a series of leading questions inculpating defendant, she agreed with police that defendant was the perpetrator, but still could not identify him. In light of current scientific knowledge regarding the effects of suggestion and confirming feedback, those circumstances raised serious questions concerning the reliability of the identification evidence admitted at defendant's trial. With regard to the second defendant, his convictions were affirmed because the show up confrontation did not cause or contribute to the witness's identification of that defendant.